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Spark It or Scrap It: Does Melatonin Help with Jet Lag?

By , Melissa Rudy, Health & Fitness Journalist
Jet lag is no joke! Also known as desynchronosis, it's a travel-induced condition that occurs when we travel long distances in a short amount of time (typically on a plane, hence the name). If you've ever flown into a different time zone and wound up feeling tired, irritable, achy or just a little off your game, you were most likely experiencing jet lag.
 
Although jet lag will eventually wear off as your internal body clock adjusts to the new time zone, you might be wondering whether you can accelerate the process—particularly if you need to be sharp for a business trip or want to enjoy a family vacation without sleeping the day away or staying up all night.
 
Resetting Your Internal Clock?
 
Many people believe that taking melatonin before travel helps to nip jet lag in the bud by resetting the body's circadian rhythms. Every night when it gets dark, the brain produces this natural hormone as a signal to the body that it's time to start winding down toward sleep. Could taking a melatonin supplement save you from suffering through a couple of crabby days (and serve as a safe alternative to taking habit-forming prescription sleeping medications)?
 
Science suggests that's a strong possibility. In a group of 10 studies of travelers who were crossing five or more time zones, nine of the studies found that taking melatonin before bedtime at the travel destination resulted in fewer or less severe jet lag symptoms when compared to those who didn't take melatonin. The doses varied from .5 to 5 milligrams, with the larger doses causing a deeper, more restful sleep. According to the study reviewers, melatonin is indeed an effective way to prevent or reduce the effects of jet lag.
 
In his Bulletproof Radio podcast, sleep researcher Daniel Pardi explains that melatonin is not the same thing as a sleeping pill. Rather than causing you to become sleepy, it tells the body that it's time for sleep. "Melatonin is more of a timing hormone, so it tells the body what time of day it is, [rather than] a sleep induction hormone," Pardi says. Three to five days before travel, he recommends taking ½ milligram of melatonin at the time when it will be getting dark at your destination, so your body won't have to adjust as much when you get there.
 
The Mayo Clinic notes that the timing of melatonin should be based on the direction you're flying. If you're traveling east, you should take the supplement in the evening at the destination location to adjust to the later time. If you're flying west, you should take it in the morning to reset your body's clock to an earlier time.
 
Take with Caution
 
Even though science backs melatonin as a jet-lag helper, as with any medication, you should be cautious when taking this sleep remedy. For some people, melatonin can have short-term side effects, including dizziness, disorientation, daytime drowsiness, vivid dreams and blood pressure changes. More research is needed to determine the safety and long-term effects of regular use. There is a possibility that melatonin could have an adverse effect on those who have epilepsy or are taking blood thinners such as coumadin (warfarin). As always, consult with your doctor before starting any medications or supplements.
 
Additional natural remedies for jet lag include exercising regularly, getting restful sleep before traveling, drinking plenty of water, avoiding caffeine and alcohol and eating a healthy, well-balanced diet.
 
Have you ever used melatonin (or another remedy) to treat jet lag? What were your results? Share your jet lag tips in the comments!

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Comments

I have used it successfully fir 2 things:
1. Sleeplessness due to perimenopause usually use it for a 3-4 of days 5mg and then reduce to half dose for another 2 days. Then u seem to be ok for weeks or months
2. When travelling. I always use it the first 2 nights when in a new very different time zone. (At lead 5hrs difference). Report
Melatonin gives me urinary troubles! I do not know how common this is but I have not found anybody else who has the same troubles. Report
CHRIS3874
I know this is off topic but I didn't like using melatonin for a sleep aid - I found it made me really GROGGY all morning after!! I would much rather use sleep MD at least my body can TOLERATE it. Report
NFSMITH
Be careful with melatonin. While it may work, I found I had vivid and weird dreams when I took it---not best for good rest! Rather, when I travel to Europe where you generally land in the morning, I stay awake and active until afternoon, when I take a nap for about 2 hours from about 3-5 pm. Then I get up, have dinner and go to bed. This pattern helps my body immensely to adjust to the new time zone. Returning to the states is easier because flights typically arrive in the evening, and bedtime comes soon enough. Still, it does take a couple of days to adjust to a new time zone, regardless of what you do or what you take. Report
SHAHAI16
I didn't have jet lag on the way to my destination, only on the return. I tried melatonin and it did nothing, but maybe because I apparently can't sleep on planes (I have insomnia issues in the best of conditions). Went from US to Nigeria, 6 hour time difference was rough, especially after 16 hours on a plane. I was on their schedule the first day and it was fine, but it took me almost a week to recover when I came back home. But I also may have had malaria :/ Report
Regarding melatonin in general, it actually needs about two hours to work properly. So, if your bedtime is at 11pm, you need to take it at 9pm. Don't know how that factors in to the jet lag equation. I'm sure you should adjust your exposure to blue light a few days before flying as well. Draw the blinds and use a blue light blocker like f.lux on your computers at the time that sundown will be at your destination. Report
Careful with this or any other over the counter junk, and real meds, you can make yourself sick mixing prescriptions with over the counter, sick enough to die!! This "journalist" is not good at telling the whole story at all!! Report
My primary care provider told me to take 3 mg of melatonin daily to aide in sleep. I work night shift, and have Doctor & Dentisit appointments on my regular days off. She told me to take the melatonin every day. Hmmm - I've been trying to take 1 mg on the mornings I'm off work. Maybe that's why I've been sleepy all day today (day off) Report
The best product I've used for international travel or traveling across 2 or 3 time zones domestically is "No Jet Lag" - I can get it online if I plan in advance, or at some of the larger department stores like Target etc in the over-the-counter pharmacy or health/beauty aids. www dot nojetlag do com or like drugstore dot com etc.). It's a homeopathic remedy and I believe utilizes melantonin as well as other safe supplements to deal with other jet lag related issues like swelling, etc. It's supposedly safe to use if you are on other medications. Their website discusses the history and I've been using this product going on 25 years now, through a couple of package re-designs and logo tweaks.

The other thing that seems to work best is to stay awake and active during the daytime portion of the location where we land, especially going eastward, even when I didn't get as much sleep in the jet as I had hoped.... then go to bed when it got dark. There are other jet lag eating plans available elsewhere on the internet where you eat lightly for so many days before flight or eat more protein, etc. That seems to be a mix for me, but might work for you. Report