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Melatonin and jet lag

One of the biggest downsides of flying a lot is the constant jet lag. Even though I try to fly much less than I used to do (mainly because of climate change), I normally still have at least one intercontinental trip per month to either Europe or Asia. From Vancouver to Europe that means a 9 hour time difference and in┬áChina it’s 15 hours earlier than here. Over the years I have developed strategies to deal with that (such eating at specific times, doing sports before departure or upon arrival, alcohol or no alcohol on the plane, and the number of hours I sleep on the plane), but it remains a challenge to quickly get over jet lag.

Over the years I heard a lot about melatonin as a solution for jet lag, but I never gave it a try. I always saw melatonin as a kind of sleeping pill and I just never want to take medicine when I am healthy. But about a year ago I was talking to a medical doctor about my travel schedule and he told me to take a closer look at melatonin instead of just dismissing it. Well, when a doctor recommends it I might as well give it a try I thought.

So I bought some at Vancouver airport at the start of my next trip and took 3 mg a few hours after take off to China. I did not really believe in it to be honest, but I was proven wrong quickly. I got sleepy about half an hour after taking a pill and then managed to sleep for about 4 hours, waking up feeling great. I worked a bit during the remaining few hours of the flight and did not feel drowsy at all. I still had a business dinner that night and felt tired of course, but managed to stay awake. When I got to my hotel I took another melatonin and again slept for about 3-4 hours. Perfect!

Since then I am taking melatonin after (and depending on the flight also during) every single long distance flight and it works well for me. Especially for eastbound flights, where you travel against the time so you will have to go to sleep while your body clock thinks it’s afternoon, it’s a great solution. Melatonin makes me sleepy and I get at least 3 hours of sleep after it. In case I wake up very early (say at 2 or 3 am) I sometimes take another melatonin to fall asleep again and that works for me.

I wish I had tried this before. I spent so many jet lagged nights reading books or doing emails, followed by daylight hours where I needed literally liters of coffee to stay awake. Melatonin is the answer to this! It’s a natural hormone that makes you feel sleepy, but that is not addictive (sleeping pills are). Just knowing that you’ll get a decent night of sleep helps a lot already.

For me the dose of melatonin that I take does not make much of a difference. I have played around with 3 mg, 5 mg and 10 mg pills, but the effect seems similar to me. I always sleep about 3-4 hours and even higher doses don’t make me feel sleepy after I wake up. I have tried different brands, but also there I don’t notice a difference.

Generally I am now over most of my jet lag in 2-3 days, even for 12 hour jet lags, instead of 5 or more days in the past. And during those 2-3 days I normally get a decent sleep as well, although it is generally shorter than it should have been. I am much more productive and generally feel a lot better after a long flight.

If you travel regularly across multiple time zones you should really give this a try. Maybe there is some placebo effect involved, but for me it has been a huge help. Most pharmacies in North America and Asia carry melatonin over the counter and you should be able to buy it on most airports as well.

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