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The body has an internal clock of sorts that follows the rhythms of night and day. Airplane travel confuses this clock, causing the phenomenon known as jet lag. If you’ve ever crossed several time zones, you’ve probably experienced jet lag to some degree. You may have felt exhausted in the morning and wide awake at night, and between those times experienced symptoms such as fatigue, loss of concentration, dizziness, lightheadedness, irritability, nausea, and headache.
Ordinarily, the body clock resets itself within a few days. It is possible to speed up this natural process by deliberately using stimuli to indicate to your body when you want it to wake up and when it should fall asleep. Common methods involve social activity and outdoor exercise during the daylight, combined with meal times appropriate to the new time zone. It is also generally considered important to stay awake upon arrival in the new time zone until night falls. Use of sleeping pills may be helpful at first, so you don’t stay awake staring at the walls. In addition, some physicians are experimenting with wakefulness drugs used for narcolepsy, such as modafinil, to help travelers stay active and alert on arrival.
Melatonin is a natural hormone that plays a role in the day-night cycle (the circadian rhythm). During daylight, the pineal gland in the brain produces an important neurotransmitter called serotonin. But at night, the pineal gland stops producing serotonin and instead makes melatonin. This melatonin release helps trigger sleep.
The amount of melatonin production varies according to the intensity of light to which you're exposed; for example, your body produces more melatonin in a completely dark room than in a dimly lit one.
This cyclic pattern of melatonin release helps set the body’s biologic clock. Melatonin supplements taken by mouth can be used to reset this clock, an effect of potential benefit in jet lag.
According to a review published in 2001, reasonably good evidence indicates that melatonin is indeed effective for this purpose.1 One of the best supporting studies was a double-blind, placebo-controlledstudy that enrolled 320 travelers crossing six to eight time zones.2 The participants were divided into four groups and given a daily dose of 5 mg of standard melatonin, 5 mg of slow-release melatonin, 0.5 mg of standard melatonin, or placebo. The results of this large study were promising. The group that received 5 mg of standard melatonin slept better, took less time to fall asleep, and felt more energetic and awake during the day than the other three groups.
For more information, including dosage and safety issues, see the full melatonin article.
Last reviewedSeptember 2014by EBSCO CAM Review Board
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.