How Melatonin Works to Relieve Jet Lag


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If you have been planning a much deserved holiday or an important business trip, the last thing you want to do is spend the first few days at your destination trying to recover from jet lag. Many people in this situation opt for melatonin tablets as a means by which to prevent the onset of jet lag, and while this therapy remains unlicensed, its wide use and popularity suggests that it can be quite effective. In this article we look at how melatonin works to address jet lag and ensure that the first few days of your trip are more pleasant.

Melatonin’s mechanism of action to relieve jet lag

Jet lag is a condition with its roots in physiological changes which occur as we move from one time zone to another. More specifically, these changes are to do with levels of important signalling chemicals in our bodies called hormones. Hormones are responsible for all manner of bodily functions, and one of these is the synchronisation of our natural day-night cycles. This cycle is also known as the circadian rhythm, and is sensitive to light, allowing our bodies to ready themselves for sleep at night, and for activity during the day.

The importance of this cycle is actually proven by the onset of jet lag, which results in sleeplessness, fatigue, and irritability amongst other effects. Jet lag is a consequence of changes in the amount of light we are exposed to, and hence, the hormonal levels which dictate whether we are ready for sleep or wakefulness.

Our eye’s possess specialist receptors which, upon exposure to light, trigger a mechanism which ultimately results in the release of melatonin from a specialised structure called the pineal gland. Melatonin’s is a naturally occurring hormone, and as you may have guessed, is what is applied to your system when you take melatonin tablets.

Melatonin’s light sensitive mechanism of release is an essential part of our circadian rhythms, and the levels of melatonin in our system has a wide range of effects on the levels of other hormones which affect our ability to sleep and our wakefulness. In normal circumstances, melatonin release peaks at night, and the amount of the hormone circulating in our blood stream gradually diminishes throughout the day.

When we fly across time zones, particularly from the east to the west, we are exposed to an abnormal amount of sunlight. Ultimately this will affect our melatonin levels and hence our natural rhythms. When the supply of melatonin is disrupted, we are unable to get the rest we need when we need it until our body clocks have effectively become synchronised to the new day-night cycle.

Melatonin works as a treatment or preventative measure for jet lag by allowing for an artificial adjustment of our circadian rhythms. By taking melatonin tablets, we can effectively trick our bodies into a new day-night cycle, minimising the effects of travel and jet lag.

Melatonin can be quite effective because of the hormone’s far reaching effects. The body is full of complex systems influenced by all manner of factors, and because of melatonin’s importance as a key regulator of so many of these systems, using the artificial form of the hormone can be extremely successful.

If you are looking to travel and make use of melatonin for jet lag you will need to speak to your GP and obtain a prescription for the medication. This is also a good opportunity for you to find out more about the drug, its effects, and its potential long term consequences on your health, which is particularly important if you are suffering from a medical condition.


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