Jet lag and melatonin
Jet lag is caused by flying in an airplane and crossing one or more time zones, which can disrupt the body's sleep and wake cycle (circadian rhythms). Jet travel across time zones may make it difficult for you to fall asleep, stay asleep, or stay awake during the day.
The effects of jet lag usually are greater if you are going from west to east than from east to west.
The symptoms of jet lag may take one to several days to go away:1
- When you fly east, the number of days it takes to recover from jet lag will be about two-thirds the number of time zones you cross. For example, if you cross six time zones, it will take you about 4 days to get back to normal.
- When you fly west, the number of days to recover equals about half the number of time zones. So if you cross six time zones, it will take you 3 days to recover.
Melatonin is a hormone the body makes that regulates the cycle of sleeping and waking. Taking melatonin may help "reset" your sleep and wake cycle. Some studies show that using it reduces how much jet lag people report on both eastward and westward flights2, but other studies have not shown a benefit.3
You can try taking melatonin to reduce the symptoms of jet lag. Suggestions about times and dosages vary among researchers who have studied melatonin. Recommendations include:
- Taking melatonin after dark the day you travel and after dark for a few days after arriving at your destination.4
- Taking melatonin in the evening a few days before you fly if flying eastward.1
There are other things you can do to decrease the effects of jet lag. Be rested before your flight, and try to walk around during the flight so that you are not confined to cramped spaces for long periods of time. Drink lots of water, because the air in jets tends to be dry. Vitamins and herbal remedies that can be bought without a prescription can also be tried to help reduce jet lag.
- Waterhouse J, et al. (2007). Jet lag: Trends and coping strategies. Lancet, 369(9567): 1117–1129.
- Herxheimer A (2008). Jet lag, search date June 2008. Online version of BMJ Clinical Evidence: www.clinicalevidence.com.
- Murray MT, et al. (2006). Melatonin. In JE Pizzorno Jr, MT Murray, eds., Textbook of Natural Medicine, 3rd ed., vol. 1, pp. 1057–1064. St. Louis: Churchill Livingstone Elsevier.
- Herxheimer A, Petrie KJ (2002). Melatonin for the prevention and treatment of jet lag. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews (2).
Last Updated: January 4, 2010