Advantage and Disadvantages of Using Melatonin for Jet Lag

As with any medicinal treatment, the use of melatonin for jet lag will have some pros and cons. In this article we look at the potential benefits and disadvantages of using this medication for anyone who is looking to travel across time zones and address the issue of jet lag.

Pros/benefits of melatonin for jet lag

While there are a number of non-drug based steps you can take to reduce or even prevent jet lag, few will be as effective as the melatonin available through prescription here in the UK. This is because of the role melatonin has to play in regulating the body’s natural hormonal clock, a system which is disrupted by travel to cause jet lag and its symptoms. Because of its key role in the mechanisms underlying jet lag, melatonin can offer a very effective way of preventing jet lag which is its main advantage.

This preventative effect means that there will be significantly reduced tiredness or fatigue upon arrival at your destination, improved concentration and temperament (tiredness often leads to irritability), and improved coordination. By taking melatonin, and therefore recalibrating your body clock, your body is geared towards wakefulness when appropriate and sleep when necessary.

Melatonin’s main benefit is that in remedying jet lag, or at the very least, reducing its symptoms, the drug can very effectively help you enjoy and make the most of the first few days of your trip. Time that would otherwise be spent adjusting to your new day-night cycle, and suffering the symptoms of jet lag.

Melatonin tablets are convenient and far easier to apply than alternative methods of easing jet lag. These alternatives can include adjusting your sleep patterns so that they are closer to the timings of your destination, a feat which can be implausible due to work or other commitments. While the tablets are not available over the counter, they should be accessible through a GP prescription. This has another added benefit in that it gives you an opportunity to talk to your GP about contraindications for the use of the drug, potential side effects, and any other concerns you may have.

Disadvantages and drawbacks of melatonin usage

Despite the major benefits it offers to anyone travelling long distance on an important business trip or the holiday of their dreams, there are some significant drawbacks to the use of melatonin which need to be taken into account before the drug is used.

The first of these is the fact that the long term use of melatonin has yet to be studied or understood. As a hormone with a number of important regulatory effects on a huge range of different bodily systems, it is not unlikely that artificial melatonin can interfere with other vital systems. At present there isn’t enough information about these potential effects, but there are concerns about the use of artificial melatonin for jet lag treatment potentially causing damage to the retina of our eyes.

Melatonin usage can cause drowsiness during the day time in about 8% of users. This is little more than a minor nuisance for most of us, but anyone operating machinery or vehicles will find themselves and others at risk should they use the medication. This drowsiness is a natural effect of using the melatonin to recalibrate our body clocks, an effect which can lead to our body misinterpreting its bed time!

The use of this drug is not advised to people who fall into certain categories, and these contraindications are a disadvantage of the drug because fewer people can make use of the treatment safely. Children under the age of 13 shouldn’t be given melatonin because of the potentially disrupting effects of the hormone on normal growth and development. Anyone with an autoimmune disease may find that they suffer unwanted inflammation as a consequence of melatonin usage, while others may find that using the drug in conjunction with blood thinners can cause excessive bleeding.

Finally melatonin is not licensed for the treatment of jet lag here in the UK. This means that the drug is not available over the counter, and you will need to speak to your GP to obtain a prescription for the treatment. This can be a benefit in some ways, as mentioned in the previous section of this article, but for many, particularly frequent travellers, having to arrange an appointment and obtain a prescription can be a drawback.

As melatonin is being studied, these effects will be better understood and catalogued, and the hope is that in the years to come we will have a more comprehensive understanding of the drawbacks of this otherwise useful medications.

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