The joys of traveling the world seem endless, seeing exciting places, meeting new people, eating exotic foods, and experiencing life in a corner of the world other than your own.
But there’s a potential downer that can ruin even the best-laid travel plans: jet lag.
The common sleep disorder is a result of the body’s own “biological clock” becoming unbalanced from traveling across time zones. A new time zone can disrupt your body’s circadian rhythm, or the 24-hour internal cycle influenced by exposure to sunlight that tells us when to be asleep and awake.
Adjusting to a new time zone can take several days, and in the meantime cause sleepiness in the middle of the day and wakefulness at night.
How to beat jet lag with melatonin
The good news is that there’s a solution for those who suffer from jet lag from time to time.
While tips like staying hydrated, eating meals at appropriate times, and exercising may have a slight benefit in helping you overcome your jet lag symptoms, the most beneficial tool for adjusting to the new time zone is adding a melatonin supplement.
One study found that the administration of melatonin before sleep, between 10 and 12 p.m. (in the travel destination) helped reduce jet lag symptoms when crossing more than five time zones (1). The study also noted that any dose from 0.5 to 5 mg of melatonin was equally effective in helping with the sleep-phase shift; however, those treated with higher doses were able to fall asleep faster.
Another study researching the advancement of sleep phases using melatonin found that larger changes in sleep-phase shifts were found when melatonin was administered versus a placebo (2). Participants in the study woke one hour earlier than the previous day for three days and each afternoon each participant was administered either 0.5 mg or 3.0 mg of melatonin, or the placebo. Although the largest sleep-phase advancement was with the highest dose of melatonin, the researchers noted that it was not significant, and participants were only slightly more tired.
A recent review of studies researching melatonin use for jet lag found that the supplement generally has a meaningful effect on sleep, especially in the treatment of jet lag (3).
Why does melatonin work?
Our circadian rhythms are affected by an area of the brain that responds to light signals, telling us when it is time to be awake and when it is time to be asleep. Travel disrupts this internal clock when passing through time zones because the internal sleep-wake cycle is not matching up with the actual time of your destination. This mismatch can lead to disruptions in normal sleep, hunger, and digestion patterns.
In addition to suffering through the annoying, and sometimes painful, jet lag symptoms, jet lag can also lead to sabotaging your weight loss and health progress. With all of the disruptions your body may experience – symptoms include fatigue, irritability, and indigestion –it should be no surprise that jet lag can interfere with your normal healthy eating and exercise habits.
Melatonin is essential when it comes to healthy sleep patterns as it’s the hormone that helps regulate the sleep-wake cycle. Although the hormone is naturally secreted by the brain’s pineal gland, the body’s production of melatonin begins to decrease with age. This is also why it’s often used by the elderly to improve sleep quality. Melatonin has also been extensively studied as a sleep supplement to help those with insomnia.
So should you take melatonin to avoid jet lag? While the research in this area is ongoing, the most recent studies have suggested that the evidence does support the recommendation of melatonin supplementation for those suffering from jet lag. The best way to take melatonin is at about 3 mg between 10 p.m. and midnight, or at bedtime, in your travel destination. According to the evidence from studies on jet lag, it’s the best way to help ease symptoms of jet lag.
- Kostoglou-Athanassiou I.Therapeutic applications of melatonin. Ther Adv Endocrinol Metab 2013;4:13–24.
- Burke T, Markwald R, Chinoy E, et al. Combination of light and melatonin time cues for phase advancing the human circadian clock. Sleep 2013;36:1617–1624.
- Noyek, S., Yaremchuk, K. and Rotenberg, B. (2016), Does melatonin have a meaningful role as a sleep aid for jet lag recovery? The Laryngoscope, 126: 1719–1720. doi: 10.1002/lary.25689