If you travel frequently across time zones, you are probably familiar with jet lag symptoms. Most of us tend to put up with jet lag as an unavoidable consequence of long distance travel. However, using melatonin for jet lag can greatly help to alleviate jet lag symptoms, allowing you to get accustomed to your new time zone quickly.

What is melatonin?

Melatonin is a hormone that occurs naturally in the body. Melatonin is produced in the pineal gland in the brain, and we can get small amounts of it in some foods including meat and vegetables. However, to get sufficient quantities of melatonin for jet lag alleviation, you have to take melatonin supplements. Also, the quantity of melatonin we produce decreases as we age.

Natural melatonin in your body is associated with your sleep and wake cycles. During the evening, melatonin levels rise and remain high throughout the night, dropping off early in the morning and staying low throughout the day. When you are jet lagged, your sleep wake cycle is out of whack, and hence you may have low melatonin when you are supposed to be sleeping according to the local time zone. In this case, taking melatonin supplements can help to elevate your melatonin levels, allowing you to enjoy an uninterrupted night's sleep. Unlike prescription sleeping pills, melatonin's effects are pretty mild, allowing you to sleep if you want to, but it doesn't generally make you stay very groggy for extended periods if you do not want to sleep.

In addition to alleviating jet lag symptoms, benefits of melatonin also include treating seasonal affective disorder or SAD, helping people with insomnia as well as those whose sleep patterns are altered due to working night shifts, and possibly also to treat chronic headaches, and it is even being studied as a possible cancer treatment, immune system booster and as a treatment for slowing down the aging process. However, these latter possible benefits of melatonin are still under study.

How to use melatonin for jet lag

Take melatonin if the difference between your old and new time zones is 5 hours or greater. It should not be taken for smaller time zone transitions as that can mess up your sleep wake cycle. To sleep well on your flight, you can take melatonin between about 6 to 7 pm local time while on the flight. At your destination, you can take a melatonin pill before going to bed (between 10 and 11 pm) for up to 4 days, less if you have adapted to your new time zone earlier. I have also gone to bed without taking melatonin, and then taken it when I woke up in the middle of the night, which helped me sleep through the rest of the night.

Side effects of melatonin

Although some have been reported, side effects of melatonin are generally quite mild and go away once you stop taking it. These can include sleepiness (which is not really a side effect if you're taking it to sleep better), stomach problems, headache, vivid dreaming changes in blood flow, and grogginess in the morning. For these reasons, you should not take melatonin if you are going to drive, use heavy equipment, or otherwise engage in tasks that require alertness within a few hours after taking it.

Where to buy melatonin

Melatonin is available in health food stores and also at many grocery stores and pharmacies as a nutritional supplement. You can buy melatonin without a prescription. Trader Joe's is one grocery store that sells melatonin pills. You can also buy melatonin online from retailers such as Amazon.com

Note: This article provides some general information about the benefits of melatonin for jet lag alleviation, but is not written by a medical professional. Please consult a doctor if you have any questions or concerns, especially if you are planning to take melatonin on a frequent basis.