Our brains often struggle when adapting to significant time changes, and jet lag can make enjoying a vacation challenging. However, through the use of melatonin, you could hack your circadian rhythm and get your body quickly synced up to your new timezone, letting you maximize your holiday and enjoy your time away.
Why Do We Get Jet Lag?
Each of us has a circadian rhythm that responds to light. As the sun goes down and darkness falls, our brains release melatonin, which helps us relax and go to sleep; as the sun comes up, this hormone reduces so that we can feel alert and awake in the morning. Our eyes’ retinas detect light signals that communicate with a part of the brain called the suprachiasmatic nucleus, telling us when to sleep, and when to wake up.
We often find it easier to function when we’re entrenched in routine because our brains enjoy the regularity. When there is a mismatch between our sleep-wake cycle and the time in our new surroundings, our internal rhythm becomes disrupted, leading to jet lag.
When To Take Melatonin
Taking melatonin at the wrong time could leave you worse off than you started. Following these tips should help you feel your best.
Many individuals take melatonin before bedtime to help them fall asleep, even when not traveling. However, taking melatonin while traveling can significantly help with sleep when taken within effective windows.
Firstly, keep in mind which direction you’re moving. It typically doesn’t need to be taken ahead of time when you’re flying west— like from Croatia to Columbia, for example— because you’ll likely need to stay awake long after you arrive. When traveling westward, you may wake up before you plan to, which could cut your sleep time short; this is because your body often takes a few days to fully adjust to the time zone. To avoid this, you can take melatonin before bed to help you sleep through the night.
Be sure to allow enough time for it to kick in; it usually takes about 20 to 30 minutes before you’ll begin to feel sleepy.
Melatonin After Arrival
Some individuals prefer taking melatonin after arriving at their destination to help them fall asleep at their new earlier bedtime or stay asleep, so they rest through the night. This approach could also be a good option if you want to be alert on the flight or meet with colleagues upon arrival.
Traveling westward will likely push your bedtime back, so you may not feel sleepy come 10 pm if you’ve just flown from a place where it’s only 5 pm; melatonin could help you synchronize your body to your new timezone.
When traveling westward, for example, on a 4 pm flight from New York to Los Angeles, your bedtime will be later than usual. When you land, it will feel like 10 pm— like it is in New York— but it will only be 7 pm in Los Angeles. Try to go to bed in alignment with your new time zone to help you adjust.
On your first morning in LA, even if you go to bed on time, your body’s natural rhythm may want to wake you up at 3 am, because in New York, it’s 7 am. You could avoid premature waking by taking melatonin before you go to bed, helping you sleep soundly through the night. A good rule of thumb is to allow yourself at least six hours of rest after taking melatonin; this way, it has enough time to work its magic and wear off so you can wake up refreshed. If you still find you’re awakening early, try extended release melatonin tablets.
Melatonin Before Arrival
Significantly adjusting your bedtime could wreak havoc on your body. However, sleeping before your arrival while in transit could be an effective strategy, as this allows you to land in your destination feeling rested and ready to go. Traveling through multiple time zones can be challenging, but sleeping en route enables you to prepare by essentially tricking your body into falling in line with your new time zone before your arrival.
By aiming for six to eight hours of sleep before arriving at your destination with the help of melatonin, you should be able to modify your circadian rhythm before you’ve arrived, allowing you to easily adjust.
When traveling eastward you’ll be gaining time, so it’ll feel earlier. For example, when flying from Chicago to London on a 10 pm flight, when you arrive, it will feel like 5:30 am, because it is in Chicago, but it’ll be 11:30 am in London. Taking melatonin right after you board your flight could help you sleep a few hours and hopefully allow you to feel refreshed enough to finish the day in London before going to bed that night.
Further, taking melatonin on your first night after arriving might help encourage your body to sleep soundly through the night. This way, your internal rhythm shouldn’t wake you up prematurely as your body adjusts to London time.
How Much Melatonin to Take
An appropriate dose of melatonin will vary from person to person. You can buy tablets in various quantities, from 0.5mg to 10mg, so it’s wise to experiment with the amount ahead of time. For some people, taking even as much as 5 milligrams can leave them feeling drowsy after a full night of sleep, so we recommend starting small and increasing the dose as needed.
We don’t recommend taking melatonin with other sedatives; while this may sound like a relaxing way to fall asleep with ease, taking it with alcohol could have dangerous consequences or impair your quality of rest, leaving you feeling tired even after sleeping eight hours.
With the aid of melatonin, these simple sleep hacks should help you jet across the world without missing a beat— but hopefully missing the lag.