Alternatives to Melatonin Tablets for Jet Lag


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Jet lag is a nuisance which most anyone who has travelled across time zones will be familiar with. A condition arising from disruptions in our hormonal cycles, jet lag can leave travellers feeling tired, sleepless, and irritable.

In this article we look at coping strategies that have been developed to manage jet lag, and more specifically those which can be employed as alternatives to the popular medicinal treatment currently in use: melatonin.

Melatonin and alternative coping strategies for jet lag

As mentioned briefly in the introduction to this article, jet lag is a condition which arises from hormonal changes. The hormones affected are those which are involved in regulating our biological clocks, a complex system known as the circadian rhythm and with many far reaching physiological effects. When we travel across time zones, our exposure to abnormal amounts of light affects this light sensitive rhythm ,and as a result, our ability to sleep when and as we should.

Melatonin is one of the hormones disrupted by jet lag, and as a key substance to the overall rhythm, is a great target for jet lag treatments. Melatonin tablets help adjust the circadian rhythm so that jet lag doesn’t set in, and a traveller is able to get much needed rest when they should.

Unfortunately melatonin has yet to be licensed for its use in this capacity. As of yet there is a limited body of scientific evidence supporting the safety and usefulness of the drug in the treatment of jet lag. That being said, there are a number of sources which espouse the usefulness of the treatment, and it is a popular option particularly in the US.

Because of its lack of a license, melatonin is only available through prescription from your GP. As this is the case it may not always be available to you, particularly if your GP does not believe in the drug’s usefulness. As such, it is important to have access to alternative strategies which can help you prevent or treat your jet lag.

Good physical health is known to be an effective effect of minimising the effects of jet lag. What this entails is regular exercise, a healthy diet, and appropriate amounts of rest. Being in good physical condition makes your body better at adjusting to changes, including those experienced through jet lag. A good way to prepare for your trip, and the jet lag that may be involved, is to adjust your diet and introduce a regular exercise regime a few weeks before you travel. This doesn’t need to be anything overly intensive, but can make a huge difference.

While many people make use of alcoholic beverages during their flights to help them sleep, this actually isn’t a very good idea. Alcohol can affect a number of different bodily functions and systems and in doing so, can leave you dehydrated and disrupt your sleeping patterns even further. Similarly caffeine should be avoided at any time around or during your flight. Caffeine is a neurological stimulant which is meant to keep you awake, and as is the case with alcohol, chemicals which disrupt your sleep patterns will ultimately worsen your jet lag.

You should also avoid sleeping pills, even if it seems like a good idea to sleep through your flight and arrive at your destination with some rest under your belt. Sleeping pills work in a number of different ways, but none of them can remedy the hormonal changes that occur when travelling. Moreover taking these pills can actually worsen your jet lag by disrupting your patterns further.

What you should drink is a lot of water around and during our flight. Keeping hydrated is key to your comfort and the healthy workings of your body, particularly as airplane’s possess an extremely dry atmosphere. During your flight it can also be extremely important to walk around and move, some sources suggest a number of simple exercises which can be performed on a plan to get your blood pumping.

Exercising or simply moving around also has the added benefit of reducing the risks of a clot developing in the legs. This is generally a risk restricted to older people or those with complicating medical conditions. Long periods of sitting, particularly on airplane seats which can press into your legs, can vastly increase the risk of your blood thickening and clotting in a blood vessel. These clots can sometimes become dislodge and travel to your lungs to cause a life threatening pulmonary embolism.

While not always possible, it is recommended that you split up a particularly long trip by staying at a location halfway to your destination. A short layover like these can do wonders for your body, helping it adjust to two smaller changes in the day-night cycle as opposed to a huge one.

Contrary to what many people believe, once you arrive at your destination you shouldn’t go straight to your hotel and rest. Instead, you should do your best to adjust to the schedule at your destination. If you arrive halfway through the day, then you should do your best to have lunch and use up the rest of the day as you normally would. If you arrive late in the evening then even if you do feel awake, you should try and sleep. Behaving in this manner will help your body adjust to its new conditions far more quickly and far more effectively, allowing you to make the most of your trip.

Similarly you can actually make adjustments to your day to day schedule based on where you are travelling to. This can or can’t be feasible depending on where it is you are travelling to and your daily routine. You don’t need to completely change your daily behaviour to suit the time zone you are travelling to, but an adjustment of a few hours can make a huge difference. For example, if you are travelling in an Eastward direction (which usually causes more severe jet lag), going to bed and waking up even as little as an hour earlier can make a substantial difference.

These are a number of different strategies which can be employed as alternatives to melatonin for jet lag. They can, however, also be used in conjunction with melatonin treatment to great effect. Ultimately your body is unique in that it will respond to different strategies in its own unique manner, however these methods are widely accepted as reliable and effective ways of minimising jet lag.


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