Melatonin Guide

Jet lag is a condition with which anyone who has had to travel long distances will be all too familiar with. Typified by lethargy and tiredness, jet lag is a major nuisance to travellers across the world, but fortunately because of its prevalence in the modern world, it is also a condition which has been addressed by modern medicine. A number of different jet lag solutions are available, and in this article we look at one of the most popular and effective methods of dealing with this condition: melatonin tablets.

Jet Lag as a Hormonal Condition

Jet lag is actually a consequence of subtle bodily changes that occur as a consequence of long distance travel and the effect it can have on sleep patterns. The human body is hugely dependent on the actions of a class of biological chemicals called hormones, and jet lag is very much a consequence of disruptions in the workings of these compounds.

Hormones play vital roles in the regulation and maintenance of a huge range of different bodily functions, and different systems have a huge dependence on the amounts and presence of different hormones. Hormones are present in different quantities to elicit different bodily responses, all designed to react to different stimuli from both within and without the body. One of the most prominent examples of a hormonal system, and one very relevant to jet lag, is that of the body clock.

We all possess a finely tuned biological or body clock which is responsible for our day-night cycle, and this system is referred to scientifically as a Circadian Rhythm. This isn’t a clock in the conventional sense of telling us the time, but instead a means by which the body regulates wakefulness and sleepiness. Specific hormones are released in the morning to indicate to the body on a biological level that it is time to be awake, and these are tapered off towards the evening to indicate sleepiness.

This system is extremely important to our energy levels throughout the day, and our ability to sleep well at night. Due to this, essential to the workings of this body clock is light. Sunlight is perceived by specialised receptors in our eyes and used to trigger the release of a hormone called melatonin from a special structure called the pineal gland.

The release of melatonin is how the body perceives ‘night time’. The release of melatonin is at its highest at night, and tapers off throughout the day, providing the body with a chemical means of dividing the day into periods of sleep and rest and periods of wakefulness and activity.

When this cycle is disrupted our body’s ability to set itself for rest and wakefulness is affected. Ultimately jet lag is a period during which your body is trying to readjust to the chances in the day and night cycle it perceives as a consequence of long distance travel, which also results in a change in our exposure to light as we move into a different time zone.

Melatonin treatment for jet lag

As shown in the previous section, melatonin is key to our body’s ability to work on a daily day-night rhythm. Disruptions in its production as a consequence of jet lag can have a number of profound effects on our wakefulness and ability to sleep. Because of the importance of melatonin in this regard, it has been targeted as a tool with which to affect to remedy jet lag.

The principal behind using melatonin as a treatment for jet lag is simply based on helping the body to adjust to changes in the day-night cycle by artificially adjusting the levels of melatonin present. In some respects, melatonin used to this end is not actually a treatment but more a preventative measure.

Taking melatonin resets our body’s circadian rhythm, making it easier to get some rest when we arrive at our destination in a different time zone. As mentioned briefly in the previous section, melatonin peaks at night time, and so some source recommend taking the tablets at night on the day of travel and some of the day following that.  Other sources suggest that if you are travelling from west to east then you should take the tablets in the evening.

While melatonin is offered as tablets to help combat the effects of jet lag the effects of the treatment are still not fully understood. Moreover there are some concerns about the long term use of the tablets as any kind of regular interference with the body’s natural hormonal rhythms can have serious consequences on the body’s long term health.

It is always advisable to talk to your doctor before opting for a medication option like this one, particularly if you have a medical condition like epilepsy, or are taking prescription medications like blood thinners.

It is also recommended that even if you are taking this particular medication, you should follow other advice on how to adjust for jet lag. These include small measures like being fully rested before you travel, moving around during the flight, keeping yourself hydrated, and some other vitamin or herbal measure to combat jet lag.

The effects of jet lag are usually short lived, and while inconvenient, don’t pose a medical concern. But because many people travelling these days do so for short periods of time, spending a few days jet lagged can hamper the productivity of holidays and business trips. If you would like to shorten your jet lag experience for whatever reason then it is worth considering melatonin tablets as there are strong indications that the treatment can be helpful. If you are uncertain as to the tablet’s effectiveness or suitability for you, then talking to your GP is probably the best thing you can do to find out more.

How to Use Melatonin Tablets to Prevent Jet Lag »