We think that you’ll agree with us when we say:
Jet lag can be pure HELL whenever we’re traveling for work or vacation.
Well, as it turns out, you can recover from jet lag MUCH faster by supplementing with melatonin.
In this article, we’re going to tell you all about jet lag, melatonin, and how melatonin will help relieve and beat your jet lag.
Jet Lag Explained
Did you know that changes in light, temperature, and other environmental factors influence our internal body clocks and affect our ability to properly sleep?
That’s why, whenever we change time zones, we start to develop jet lag symptoms.
Jet lag refers to a desynchronization between the circadian rhythms and the destination time while rapidly traveling across multiple time zones. Circadian rhythm refers to a natural, internal coordinated timing process in the body that influences many characteristics of our physiology.
Why does this matter?
It’s important to first understand the functions that our circadian rhythms influence in order to understand the effects of jet lag on the body. Biological clocks produce circadian rhythms and control their timing.
The master clock, located in the brain, is responsible for the coordination and synchronization of all the biological clocks in the body. Our master clock is a collection of 20,000 neurons that form the suprachiasmatic nucleus.
Suprachiasmatic Nucleus & Hypothalamus Function
You might be wondering: what is the suprachiasmatic nucleus?
Well, the suprachiasmatic nucleus is in a small region of the brain known as the hypothalamus, which regulates and balances many of the body’s internal functions. It also manages the pituitary gland, which manages the adrenal glands, thyroid gland, ovaries, and testes.
What does this have to do with circadian rhythms?
The suprachiasmatic nucleus receives information about incoming light from the optic nerves. The optic nerves then transmit that information from the eyes to the brain.
There are two key ways in which the suprachiasmatic nucleus is related to circadian rhythms:
- It helps the circadian rhythms adapt to the light-dark cycles of the environment.
- It generates hormonal and neuronal activities that control various bodily functions that run in a 24-hour cycle.
Synchronizers known as zeitgebers are external or environmental rhythmic cues that help adapt the master clock to the 24-hour light-dark cycle. Light is the strongest of the Zeitgebers; others include exercise, meal timing, social interactions, among others.
10 Jet Lag Symptoms
You may experience many disruptive symptoms when you have jet lag disorder. These include:
- Disturbed Sleep – This may take the form of premature waking, insomnia, or increased sleepiness.
- Daytime Fatigue
- Inability to Concentrate
- Reduced Ability to Mentally and Physically Function
- Decreased Alertness
- Mood Shifts and Increased Irritability
- Difficulties with Going to and Staying Asleep
- Gastrointestinal Issues – These may take the form of constipation or diarrhea.
So, what happens when jet lag becomes chronic?
Chronic jet lag and disruption of circadian rhythms may lead to cognitive deficits, such as impaired working memory. You will also have an increased risk of developing sleep disorders, digestive conditions, including peptic ulcers, and cancer.
Which Factors Influence Jet Lag?
Time Zones, Phase Advances, & Jet Lag
The severity of your jet lag and jet lag symptoms that you experience may be aggravated by the number of time zones that you cross and your direction of travel.
Eastward travel especially disrupts your sleep-wake cycle and circadian rhythms because the length of daytime is decreased, and the master clock must reset earlier to adapt and re-establish a normal routine. This is called a phase advance.
Suppose that you’re flying from Denver, Colorado to Amsterdam, Netherlands on vacation. You would be traveling 8 time zones east.
If you expect to go to sleep at 12 AM on the first night of your stay in Amsterdam because you usually go to sleep at 12 AM at home in Denver, then you are really trying to go to sleep at 4 PM in Denver local time.
Your circadian rhythms are used to, and still stuck on, Denver local time. You are attempting to advance the time of your sleep, which requires your master clock to phase advance to adapt to the local time and your new sleeping schedule.
Researchers at the Chronobiology Laboratory at the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Surrey have accredited the sleep disturbances that you experience after a flight crossing through multiple time zones, to the great sensitivity of sleep to alterations in the body’s temporal setting.
Regardless of which direction you travel in, research suggests that these symptoms will typically persist for a day for each time zone that is crossed, until the master clock and circadian rhythms adapt to the new local time zone. In general, if more than 8 time zones are crossed, then your symptom of disturbed sleep can persist for a few days to as long as a week.
Aging & Jet Lag
So, who gets jet lag?
Well, people of all ages can be affected by jet lag, but the elderly may be more greatly impacted. Research has shown that adults over the age of 60 may have less routine circadian rhythms, and greater difficulties with recovering from the effects of jet lag, especially when they traveled eastward.
What else does the research have to say about the connection between aging and jet lag?
Current Biology, a biweekly peer-reviewed scientific journal, published a 2006 study that investigated the effects of repeated schedule changes in older mice. After a period of 8 weeks that consisted of weekly light cycle phase advances of 6-hours, only 47% of the mice survived. When the phase advances were scheduled for every 4 days instead of every week, after just 24 days, 60% of the mice survived.
What does this mean?
Age-related circadian rhythm alterations may adversely affect your health when you undergo phase advances. On the other hand, it may be that the general vulnerability of older animals and people may explain why they are less able to tolerate light cycle phase advances.
Chronotype & Jet Lag
Your chronotype can also affect the severity of your jet lag symptoms. Chronotype refers to your master clock, and your most energetic times of day during a 24-hour period.
Renowned sleep doctor and psychologist Dr. Michael J. Breus, Ph.D., published a book called “The Power of When,” in which he has outlined and labeled 4 different chronotypes, and the ideal, daily routines that each chronotype should follow.
- Bears = make up approximately 50% of the general population
- Lions = make up about 15%-20% of the general population
- Wolves = make up about 15%-20% of the general population
- Dolphins = make up about 10% of the general population
What does each chronotype mean?
Bears have master clocks that follow the rising and setting of the sun, and require 8 hours of sleep a night.
Lions are “morning-type people,” who wake up early with lots of energy and are exhausted by the early evening hours.
Wolves are the exact opposite of lions, being “evening-type people” who prefer to wake up late and are most active in the evening hours.
Dolphins describe those individuals who are light sleepers and tend to develop insomnia.
You might be wondering: How does this connect to jet lag?
Researchers have found that lions are less affected by eastward travel, while wolves are less affected by westward travel. Jet-lagged travelers can reduce their symptoms of increased sleepiness, premature awakening, irritability and depressed mood, and decreased performance by helping the body synchronize to its new temporal setting.
What About Melatonin?
So, where does melatonin fit into all of this? Melatonin has been shown in many studies to be INCREDIBLY effective in helping reset the body’s circadian rhythms and adjust to its new temporal setting. Melatonin is known as the “sleep hormone.”
It is produced by the pineal gland, located in the center of the brain. Although inactive during the daytime for most people, it actively starts producing melatonin during the nighttime, while in darkness. From there, melatonin is gradually released into the bloodstream.
Countless studies have shown that melatonin has many sleep benefits:
- Puts you into a state of drowsiness to get you ready for sleep
- Helps you fall asleep quicker
- Extends your total sleep duration
- Enriches your overall sleep quality
- Enhances your alertness in the morning
- Treats sleep issues caused by insomnia or jet lag
During a normal night of sleep, blood levels of melatonin will stay higher between the hours of 9 PM – 9 AM for a period of about 12 hours. As the sun rises and daylight comes, the pineal gland will become inactive, and the blood levels of melatonin will decrease to a point that they are barely detectable.
You’re probably wondering: What affects your levels of melatonin?
The amount of melatonin that is produced and released during the nighttime is determined, in part, by your age. As you get older, lower levels of melatonin will be produced and released.
Children will usually have higher blood levels of melatonin than adults. Researchers attribute this to the occasional sleep disruptions that older adults may experience. Lower blood levels of the hormone may jeopardize the stimulus for falling and staying asleep, and experiencing a restful, energizing sleep.
What other factors may affect your levels of melatonin?
The use of caffeine, alcohol, or tobacco may negatively impact your blood levels of melatonin. People who work the night shift and people with poor vision may also be at risk of having lower than normal melatonin levels. Exposure to natural light and exercise during the daytime also help promote higher levels of melatonin in the nighttime.
15 Amazing Food Sources of Melatonin:
- Tart Cherries
- Malbec Grapes
- Bell and Chili Peppers
- Saffron Milk Cap Mushrooms
- Porcini Mushrooms
Why You Should Take Melatonin for Jet Lag
Earlier in this article, there was a large section that discussed the suprachiasmatic nucleus. It’s time to connect it to melatonin.
The suprachiasmatic nucleus is CRUCIAL to the synthesis of melatonin. You may have noticed by now that melatonin is produced and released in a schedule resembling a circadian rhythm.
As a result, the suprachiasmatic nucleus is vital in both the regulation of circadian rhythms, and the synthesis of melatonin, as well as the light-induced limitation of melatonin synthesis.
Where does light factor into all of this?
As has been stated before, melatonin production is stimulated during times of darkness and inhibited in the presence of light. Under normal conditions of entrainment, which describes the process of determining or modifying the phase or period of something, the inhibitive effects of light on melatonin synthesis decreases the phase shifting effects of melatonin during the early evening and morning hours.
Melatonin must be appropriately timed to have phase shifting effects. It’s all coming together, now that we’ve come back to the concept of phase advances. Melatonin has a phase advance effect during the early evening hours and a phase delay effect during the early morning hours.
This phase advance in circadian rhythm PROMOTES sleep. When the levels of melatonin increase in conditions of low light, this results in a mechanism involving increased vasodilation, or blood vessel dilation, and the decrease in body temperature, and contributes to feelings of sleepiness.
When your flight takes you through at least 5 time zones, you are recommended to take melatonin on the day of your flight at the time that you plan on going to sleep in the new local time zone, and for several days afterward while in that new local time zone. If you’ll be crossing 7-8 time zones, then you are recommended to take melatonin 1-3 days before the day of your flight to better adapt to the new local time zone.
Science Says that Melatonin is Effective for Treating Jet Lag
Does melatonin really work in treating jet lag?
There have been multiple scientific studies and reviews that have investigated the possible effects of melatonin in treating jet lag and its symptoms.
Melatonin is the primary pharmacological agent used for the treatment of jet lag.
Other pharmacological agents include ramelteon (rozerem), zolpidem (ambien), caffeine, diphenhydramine (benadryl), and armodafinil (nuvigil).
In the first ever double-blind, placebo-controlled experiment to examine the phase-shifting effects of melatonin in treating jet lag, 17 people taking an 8-hour westward flight were evaluated.
Eight of the 17 were randomly chosen to take 5 mg of melatonin daily, beginning three days before the flight at 6 PM, and for four days after the flight at the bedtime hour of 10 PM to 12 AM in the new local time zone.
Based on subjective measurements of jet lag, self-recorded sleep parameters, and mood, those who were taking melatonin experienced considerably fewer severe jet lag symptoms. Based on objective measurements of their melatonin levels and cortisol circadian rhythms, those who were taking melatonin adapted much quicker.
OK, that sounds good so far. Is there any other strong evidence that melatonin treats jet lag?
In one scientific review, researchers at the UK Cochrane Centre were assessing the effectiveness of melatonin supplementation at different dosages in reducing jet lag after traveling across multiple time zones.
They found that melatonin is greatly effective in the prevention or reduction of jet lag and its symptoms, and its occasional short-term usage seems to be safe. In nine out of ten trials, in which melatonin was used close to the objective bedtime of 10 PM to 12 AM at the destination, there was a reduction in jet lag in travelers who crossed at least 5 time zones.
Daily dosages ranging between 0.5 and 5 mg proved to be similarly effective, but travelers fell asleep and experienced a higher quality of sleep with 5 mg than 0.5 mg. Melatonin dosage with amounts higher than 5 mg did not yield better results. The researchers of this review hypothesized that the benefit of melatonin supplementation is greater when more time zones are crossed.
A major finding of this research is that the timing of the dosage is essential because a dosage early in the day could induce feelings of sleepiness and a phase delay in adapting to the new time zone. The occurrence of other side effects from melatonin supplementation was discovered to be low.
Liposomal Melatonin Supplements
If you are looking for ways to increase your melatonin blood levels, you should consider a melatonin supplement.
More specifically, you may want to do some research on Liposomal Melatonin Technology. Liposomal Technology uses micro sized fluid filled liposomes to protect and deliver nutrients directly into the cells and tissues of the body.
These liposomes are very similar to human cells, which makes it easier for them to be transported within the body. As a result, nutrient absorption is greatly increased, and there is less intestinal discomfort than with using standard oral supplements.
- Micro-sized encapsulation that protects against the harsh acidity of the gastrointestinal tract
- Increased delivery to cells, tissues, and organs
- Higher absorption rates and bioavailability than other standard oral supplements
- Noninvasive compared to intravenous supplementation
- Lower doses provide the same effects as high-dose standard oral supplements
- Helps put nutrients to use by the body faster
- Prevents gastrointestinal distress usually experienced with standard oral supplements
Clearly, liposomal melatonin supplement deserves serious consideration as a potential jet lag remedy.
Light, the Strongest Zeitgeber
Throughout this entire article, we have discussed the importance of light and darkness regarding melatonin production and the light cycle. Traveling across multiple time zones requires a reset and re-adaptation of the master clock to a different daylight schedule. One of the best ways to combat jet lag is by exposure to natural light.
While this may be difficult to do for those of you who travel frequently and are unable to spend time outside in the daytime, there is a feasible alternative: light therapy. By exposing yourself to a lamp, a light box, or light visor for brief periods at deliberately chosen times during the day, your eyes will receive exposure to artificial bright lights that simulate sunlight. This will help synchronize the master clock to your new daylight schedule.
What about melatonin combined with light therapy? As it turns out, you can combine melatonin supplementation with light therapy at your time of departure to speed up your master clock’s adaptation to your new environment.
Suppose that you’re flying from New York City to Barcelona, which would be a 6-hour eastward time zone change. You should expose yourself to natural light on the day before and the day of your flight in order to trigger a phase advance.
Avoid exposure to evening light, because that would cause a phase delay. If you expect to go to sleep at about 12 AM in Barcelona, then you should take melatonin at around 6 PM, New York City local time.
When you get to Barcelona, then you should avoid exposure to evening light there too, and take melatonin at around 12 AM, Barcelona local time. This way, your master clock will phase advance by one to two hours daily, and you can supplement melatonin one to two hours earlier daily until fully synchronized to the new local time zone.
If your travel will result in a time zone change close to 12 hours, then causing phase delays would be preferable. You would have to do the opposite – take melatonin during the mornings, avoid daylight exposure, and seek evening light exposure.
Why You Should Supplement Melatonin to Overcome Jet Lag Quickly?
Melatonin is scientifically proven to help reduce or prevent jet lag symptoms when crossing at least 5 time zones, in the amount of 5 mg.