Zoning Out: Melatonin May Ease Jet Lag

Rubbing sleep out of the eyes

outta bed, sleepyhead.

It’s tough to be a chipper tripper when jet lag has you in its clutches. Sleep aids can cause fogginess and confusion, and caffeine can make even an avid coffee drinker feel a little jittery, but what’s an adventurous sort to do to tame the beast known as jet lag?

“It can take five days to feel normal again after a long-haul flight,” The Guardian explained. “What with daytime sleepiness, nightly insomnia, loss of appetite, clouded thinking and poor co-ordination, this can seem like a long time. It’s worse if you are sleep-deprived before you travel, cross more than four timezones, get dehydrated on the flight by drinking alcohol or if you are traveling east, which we find harder to tolerate than going west as the body clock copes better with being asked to stay up longer.”

What exactly causes jet lag? Disruption of  your basic circadian rhythms, the internal body clock that regulates sleep and waking. “This clock is a tiny group of cells in the brain: the hypothalamic suprachiasmatic nucleus. It’s controlled by light and dark and the hormone melatonin, which is produced when it gets dark and controls our body temperature while we sleep.”

The Guardian goes on to say that a systematic review of research by the Cochrane Collaboration revealed that melatonin can be taken to reduce jet lag when crossing two or more timezones. Between 0.5mg to 5 mg of melatonin, taken daily at bedtime, helped people to get to sleep faster and better (particularly for the higher dose), as well as reduce sleepiness during daytime.

“Melatonin is a pineal hormone that plays a central part in regulating bodily rhythms and has been used as a drug to re-align them with the outside world. Melatonin is remarkably effective in preventing or reducing jet lag, and occasional short-term use appears to be safe,” according to the Cochrane Summaries.

Melatonin is supposed to work better the more timezones are crossed, and for traveling east more than west. There is some evidence to suggest that if you travel west, but are only staying for a couple of days, it is best to stick to your home timezone to reduce jet lag, otherwise you should adopt the local time as soon as possible. If you are traveling east, it helps to stay in the dark for at least three hours after arriving to try to reset the circadian rhythm. If going west, get out in the daylight and cast any vampiric tendencies aside.

It has been noted that Melatonin is not a safe alternative for all travelers, though, and that people with epilepsy or on Warfarin should not take it. Do you have a go-to home remedy guaranteed to perk you up after a plane ride? — Casandra Armour

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