As you may already know, oral melatonin can help reduce jet lag symptoms when crossing time zones. In fact, this applies not just to air travel, but to any sudden change to our schedules – e.g. daylight savings time changes that shift our clocks an hour earlier or later – which are effectively a change of time zone.
But you likely have some questions about how exactly to use melatonin for jet lag. For instance, you may be wondering when to take melatonin, how much to take, if eastward travel vs. westward travel matters when taking melatonin, etc. Not to worry – we’ll address these questions (and more) in this article.
While we’re going to discuss how to get the best results when taking melatonin for jet lag, keep in mind that the supplements themselves also matter. The melatonin supplements from MELO Labs are among the fastest-acting and most effective on the market (as we’ll talk about in more detail later).
At a glance:
What People Get Wrong About Melatonin for Jet Lag
A common misconception about melatonin is that it works like a sedative or sleeping pill. In reality, melatonin is a hormone produced by your pineal gland that governs your circadian rhythm (aka body clock), and is released in the evening when the sun goes down – or whenever you perceive darkness (according to an article from the New England Journal of Medicine).
Melatonin will only make you as sleepy as you would typically feel in the evening under normal conditions. It’s simply meant to let your body know that it’s evening time. As such, melatonin works best when we have good sleep hygiene, i.e. healthy habits that promote sleep. (We’ll discuss some of these habits later on.)
What’s more, because melatonin production is triggered by the perception of darkness, its effect can easily be blocked by bright light – especially the blue light emitted by our electronic devices. This is especially important in the case of jet lag, since airports are often lit with unnaturally bright light and full of electronic screens.
So, melatonin won’t simply knock you out after a long trip, and it won’t do much at all if you’re getting too much bright light or screen time in the evening. However, it can be incredibly helpful to use melatonin when adjusting to a new time zone, since it regulates your body’s internal clock. In fact…
You can essentially use melatonin as a tool to rest your circadian rhythm so it matches your new local time!
Read on to learn how to use melatonin the right way to combat jet lag.
Melatonin for Jet Lag: Instructions
Here, we’re going to break down what to do before, during, and after traveling to a new time zone to help you reset your internal clock and get the most out of melatonin.
If you’re able to, plan ahead by slowly moving your local bedtime in the direction of your target bedtime in the new time zone.
For instance, if you typically go to bed around 10 pm, and you’re traveling to a place 4 hours ahead of your current time zone, your target bedtime in your new time zone is 6 pm in your current time zone.
Consider going to bed at 9:30pm one night, then 9 pm the next, then 8:30 pm, etc., for as many nights as you can until you leave. You don’t necessarily have to reach your target bedtime, but every little bit you do to prepare helps you adjust more easily.
It’s also a good idea to experiment with taking melatonin before leaving, especially if you’re new to it. We’ll talk more in the next section about how to find the right melatonin dose for you, but essentially, you’ll want to take the smallest dose you can, and slowly work your way to higher doses only as needed.
This is important, because you need to know what a regular dose is for you, and subsequently, what a half or quarter dose would be. Those half and quarter doses can help you on nights when you wake up at 3 am and can’t fall back asleep but don’t want to be groggy at 8 am.
When You Get On the Plane (or Train, or Bus, etc.)
One of the best things you can do during air travel (or any kind of travel) is sleep. Taking melatonin can help you accomplish this, especially if you’re scheduled to arrive at your destination any time in the morning or early afternoon and want to be well-rested.
This might be a good time to try a half or quarter dose. You’re not yet trying to reset your circadian rhythm, just trying to induce sleep. This is safer than taking sleeping pills or other sedatives, which will most likely leave you with daytime sleepiness when you land.
Of course, you’ll want to wait to take melatonin until you’ve boarded and are in your seat. Delays happen all the time, and you don’t want to fall asleep at the gate, or override the melatonin by staying alert in an environment full of bright lights. Bright light disrupts the effects of melatonin, according to a study from the Journal of Physiology.
After you’ve taken the melatonin, get out your eye mask and ear plugs. (These are often complementary on long-distance flights, but you can also buy nicer ones at the airport or ahead of time.) We sleep better with minimal light and noise, and receiving a darkness signal in particular helps melatonin stay activated.
When You Arrive
Depending on the distance you’ve traveled, especially if you’ve gone across multiple time zones, you may be very tempted to nap soon after landing. Try to avoid napping if possible. (Note that it’ll be much easier to stay awake if you were able to sleep on the trip.)
Your goal is to stay awake until your regular bedtime in the local time zone, and then to go to sleep at that time. If you’re flying west, you’ll be staying up later than usual, whereas if you’re flying east, you’ll be going to sleep earlier than usual.
That said, if you’re flying halfway across the world, these concepts of “later” and “earlier” won’t entirely apply. For instance, a 12 hour time difference means your new bedtime is equally later and earlier than your old one. In these cases, when traveling across multiple time zones, your circadian rhythm will be a lot more confused.
Regardless, you’ll benefit from a dose of melatonin 1-2 hours before your target bedtime (or 30 minutes for vaporized or liquid melatonin). This is how you can help reset your circadian rhythm to your new time zone. Avoid evening light so the melatonin can take effect, and try to sleep for your usual duration (or longer if you’re sleep deprived from the trip).
If you wake up in the middle of the night, you may want to take another half or quarter dose of melatonin, but avoid taking a higher dose so you don’t have morning sleepiness. Natural melatonin production peaks between 2 and 4 am (via a study from Scoliosis), so having a little more around this time can help reinforce your new sleep wake cycle.
Lastly, try to avoid taking melatonin every night of your trip. Prolonged use of melatonin can make it less effective, whereas using it sparingly will allow you to get more out of the supplement. Save it for the nights you need it most.
When You Come Back Home
You’re entering a new time zone once again when you return from your trip, so you’ll benefit from repeating the above steps.
You may be wondering if this is all worth it, and if maybe it would just be easier to stick to your old time zone throughout your trip so you don’t have to go through this change again when you get home. For instance, if your normal 10 pm bedtime is 5 pm in your new time zone, it might be tempting to just go to bed at 5 pm and then wake up at 1 am every day of your trip.
Of course, this would not only limit what sort of activities you could do (very few places of business are open at 1 am), but it would also confuse your circadian rhythm even more, because it wouldn’t be receiving normal light cues.
Your circadian rhythm is governed by light exposure: Getting morning light resets your body’s internal clock, letting you know it’s time to start being active again. This doesn’t happen if you get up at 1 am, long before the sun rises. So, you’re not doing yourself any favors if you try to stick to your old schedule.
Thankfully, melatonin can help you adjust to your old time zone when you come home, just as it helped you adjust to your new time zone while you were traveling.
Tips for Taking Melatonin for Jet Lag (and in General)
Melatonin is useful not just for jet lag, but for any night when we might have trouble sleeping. Here are some tips on how to get the most out of your melatonin any time you need help with temporary sleep problems.
The Most Effective Melatonin Dose
In short, the most effective melatonin dose is the lowest dose that works for you. But what’s a good starting dose? Many companies sell supplements with upwards of 10 mg of melatonin per serving, but it turns out this may be too much for most people.
A systematic review from the Cochrane Library suggests that optimal doses of melatonin are between 0.5 mg and 5 mg, and that taking more is not necessarily more effective. In fact, taking too much can disrupt your circadian rhythm and make it even harder to sleep.
A good starting dose might be 1 or 2 mg, i.e. the lower end of the recommended scale, so you can see if that’s effective for you before going higher. Keep in mind older adults don’t produce as much natural melatonin, so your ideal dose may increase a little with age (but still will not be as high as 10 mg).
On the other hand, taking too much melatonin can backfire, making you less sleepy, and causing you to have vivid dreams — or even nightmares. So don’t take a large dose right off the bat. Instead, experiment with a smaller amount and gradually increase until you get the desired effect.
The Most Effective Type of Melatonin
Melatonin most often comes in pill form, but it turns out this is the least effective way we can take it. In fact, we may only get 15% bioavailability from oral melatonin pills, according to a clinical trial from the Journal of Clinical Pharmacology. That means most of the supplement (and your money) is wasted.
Not only that, but this also means you can’t trust the dose listed on the pill bottle to be reliable. In other words, 15% bioavailability means a 5 mg melatonin pill may end up giving you less than 1 mg of actual melatonin. The solution is not to take more pills (which is dangerous since you won’t know how much you’re really getting), but to take it a different way.
Taken in liquid form, melatonin is absorbed both more thoroughly and more quickly. An article from Medicare Europe claims liquid supplements have around 98% bioavailability and can be absorbed in as little as 1-4 minutes. By contrast, pills need additional time to be absorbed, since the stomach has to break them down first.
MELO Sip from MELO Labs is a powdered melatonin supplement that you add to water and drink about 30 minutes before bed. (By contrast, pills need to be taken 1-2 hours ahead of your bedtime.) The supplement also contains L-Theanine, chamomile extract, valerian root extract, GABA, zinc, potassium, and vitamins – all of which help support relaxation and sleep.
This last point is especially important, because melatonin by itself won’t necessarily make you feel relaxed. It primes you for evening activities and sleep, but it doesn’t counter anxiety, and its effects are easily countered by bright lights. Taking melatonin with other natural relaxation enhancers can better support sleep than taking melatonin alone.
You also have another option that gets absorbed even more quickly: melatonin vaporizers. Melo Air from Melo Labs contains fast-acting melatonin and only a few other ingredients, none of which are known to be harmful when vaporized.
Work With (And Not Against) Your Melatonin
Improving your sleep hygiene won’t just help you sleep better – it’ll also help your melatonin supplements work more effectively. Remember, melatonin is not a sleeping pill, and it won’t knock you out like a tranquilizer. Melatonin is a hormone, and as such, it is sensitive to your habits and daily activities.
The following are some best practices for sleep hygiene that will have the added benefit of helping you get more out of your melatonin supplements.
- Keep your bedroom cool, dark, and quiet.
- Get sunlight and exercise early in the day.
- Limit blue light exposure (from electronic devices) in the evening, and use an eye mask to block extraneous light while you sleep.
- Have a bedtime routine, i.e. at least one or two activities you find relaxing that you consistently do before bed.
Limit or avoid alcohol in the evening. Alcohol disrupts REM sleep, according to a review from Alcoholism, Clinical and Experimental Research.
- Another study from Alcohol and Alcoholism suggests acute alcohol consumption won’t affect your circadian rhythm, but chronic alcohol consumption can lead to “disordered circadian melatonin secretion.” With this in mind, it’s generally a good idea to avoid alcohol when you take melatonin, which may make the melatonin less effective.
What Does the Research Say?
In case you’re wondering, there is considerable scientific evidence in favor of using melatonin to improve symptoms of jet lag. A systematic review from Nutrients found melatonin could help significantly alleviate jet lag. The researchers looked at those traveling eastward separately from those traveling westward and found melatonin could be useful in both cases.
Another study from the Cochrane Library says melatonin is recommended for anyone traveling across 5 or more time zones but also notes that travelers going across 2-4 time zones can take it if necessary. The researchers suggest it’s especially helpful when traveling eastward.
Additionally, a study from Travel Medicine and Infectious Diseases suggests melatonin can be helpful in the treatment of jet lag particularly when used in conjunction with other interventions, such as timed exposure to bright light and exercise.
There are many more studies demonstrating the efficacy of melatonin for jet lag, but make sure to speak with your doctor or healthcare provider if you have additional concerns. Melatonin is effective for temporary sleep problems, but if your sleep problems are more chronic, consider getting tested for sleep disorders.
Does Melatonin Have Any Side Effects When Used for Jet Lag?
The side effects of melatonin are the same regardless of whether or not it’s being used for jet lag. Dr. Brent Bauer of the Mayo Clinic says the most common side effects are headache, dizziness, and nausea. Drowsiness is also listed as a side effect, but this is only a problem if it persists into the following day.
Note that you’re much more likely to experience these side effects if you take too much melatonin. This is one reason why it’s so important to find the right dose for you.
Use Melo Labs Melatonin to Help Counter Jet Lag
When you’re preparing for a shift in time zone, plan ahead – and invest in good melatonin supplements.
MELO Air and MELO Sip are among the fastest-acting, most effective melatonin supplements you can find. What’s more, they each come in multiple flavors that actually taste great and contain no added sugar or sugar alcohols. Try some for your next trip (or restless night).