When the topic of jet lag comes up, people often wonder how to avoid it. The most common suggestion that is offered is to take melatonin. We’ll walk you through why this is, and why melatonin is not the optimal solution to jet lag.
Why People Take Melatonin for Jet Lag
Melatonin is a hormone that is naturally produced by your body. It plays an important role in your circadian rhythm, and begins to be produced when it typically becomes dark outside. The increased levels of melatonin in your blood make you feel less alert, and more inclined to sleep.
The Circadian Rhythm is a natural, internal process that regulates the sleep-wake cycle and repeats roughly every 24 hours (National Sleep Foundation)
Because of this, people have started taking melatonin supplements to help deal with jet lag. They try to use it to induce sleep and help adjust their circadian rhythm to whatever new timezone they are in. While there is some evidence of melatonin aiding in the sleep process, it does not check other necessary boxes to be considered an effective solution for jet lag.
How to Fight Jet Lag
There are several widely accepted steps that you can take in order to minimize the impact of jet lag. In order to be most effective, it is important that all three of these actions be taken, not just one or two of them.
Adjusting to the new time zone and getting high-quality, sustained sleep is what people tend to focus most on when trying to avoiding jet lag. It depends on where you are traveling, and how long you will be there, but it is generally a good idea to get rest on the long haul flight so that you won’t be exhausted when you arrive.
You will find that, a lot of the time, you will have several hours, and maybe even the whole day ahead of you when you land. Sleeping on the airplane will go a long way to ensuring you are able to make it through your first day there, and will help you avoid making the mistake of going to bed early because you are tired.
Making sure that you’re staying hydrated is always important, but even more so when taking an overseas flight as dehydration can make the symptoms of jet lag even worse. This also means avoiding alcohol and caffeine, as both not only contribute to dehydration, but interfere with sleep as well.
It is important that, once you arrive, you get out and do stuff. Light exposure is one of the main elements that help regulate your body’s circadian rhythm. Exposure to morning light is best for adjusting to an earlier time zone, while evening light is best for later time zones.
Combining this light exposure with exercise can help you adapt even faster. Exercise will allow you to feel more alert, and can improve your sleep quality at the end of the day. Keep in mind that having the energy to do this is important, which is why being able to have a deep sleep on the airplane is important.
Where Melatonin Falls Short
It has been shown that melatonin does, in fact, aid in the process of falling asleep. This is the main reason that people take it, and it accomplishes what they are after. However, there are a few limitations melatonin has that restrict its ability to be a viable option for fighting jet lag.
The first is that you need to be attentive to the time when you take melatonin. If you are not entirely certain about your circadian rhythm, taking melatonin as a jet lag cure at the wrong time can throw it out of whack and shift it so that it matches neither your origin nor your destination. While this is not that big of a deal, it can be frustrating and can prolong the time it takes for your body to adjust to the new time zone.
Melatonin also does not address the need for hydration. It doesn’t dehydrate you, but seeing as how hydration is essential, taking melatonin for jet lag is not the best option. As for activity, people have reported feeling groggy the day after taking melatonin which can make it difficult to find the energy to go outside, take in sunlight, and be active, which are also integral parts in beating jet lag.