Now that international travel is bouncing back from the Covid-19-related restrictions, you might be considering feeding your travel bug with a long-haul flight to a remote destination.
And, while new adventures are just around the corner, you’ll almost certainly need to deal with a common necessary evil of long-distance traveling: jet lag.
So, how can you beat your jet lag and prevent sleep disruption from eating into precious vacation time?
Melatonin can help!
Here’s all you need to know about the connection between sleep health and the sleep hormone.
Melatonin and Jet Lag: What’s The Connection?
Jet lag is a temporary sleep problem that affects people traveling a long distance in a short period of time, such as crossing more than two time zones by plane.
This rapid change of location can cause your body to fall out of sync with its natural sleep-wake cycle and disrupt your Circadian Rhythm – or your internal body clock that regulates the cycle of sleepiness and alertness.
Jet lag is only temporary because it only manifests itself while your body adapts to the new daytime-nighttime schedule of your destination.
However, this takes time and, for a few days, you might experience symptoms like insomnia, daytime drowsiness, headaches, difficulty concentrating, fatigue, digestive issues, and mood swings.
In turn, you might be missing out on the first days of your vacation (not great if you’re traveling on a budget with limited travel days!), or you might not be at your best for an important meeting.
While jet lag is not entirely preventable, learning how to trigger the production of melatonin – or the hormone the body produces before bedtime – can help.
Treating and Preventing Jet Lag With Melatonin
Melatonin – often referred to as the Sleep Hormone – is produced in the brain’s pineal gland and plays a vital role in regulating your natural sleep-wake cycle. The production of melatonin and its release in the bloodstream is triggered by environmental factors, such as darkness, relaxation, and low noise levels.
Melatonin production in the body begins a few hours before bedtime, peaks between 2 and 4 am and slows down as the sun rises.
If the production of melatonin falls out of sync with your destination’s nighttime-daytime schedule, you will find it hard to fall asleep at night and feel energized during the day.
According to studies conducted over the past 20 years, melatonin-based drugs and supplements, when taken close to bedtime at the destination, can realign the production of melatonin in the body, thus preventing or treating jet lag.
How to Create Natural Melatonin
Once you understand how melatonin works, it is possible to trigger an increased production of the sleep hormone before bedtime, thus inducing sleepiness and tiredness. Some strategies to create natural melatonin in the body include:
- Try light therapy – exposing your body to sunlight curbs the production of melatonin. So, even if you struggle to fall asleep at a new destination, consider staying in the darkness to mimic ideal sleeping conditions and trigger increased melatonin production.
- Stay away from light-emitting devices – looking at light-emitting screens before going to sleep can disrupt melatonin production, thus making it even harder for your body to adapt to the new sleep-wake cycle.
- Enjoy a warm bath or try relaxation techniques – meditation and relaxation techniques improve sleep by slowing down the rate at which melatonin is metabolized, thus supporting higher levels of the sleep hormone in the bloodstream.
Beating Jet Lag Starts At Home
Jet lag cannot be entirely prevented, especially when flying across several time zones.
However, there is a lot that you can do before boarding the plane. For example, adjusting your standard bedtime routine weeks before your departure to mimic the nighttime-daytime schedule at your destination is an efficient way to train your body.
You should also consider avoiding excessive consumption of caffeine and alcohol as these substances are Circadian Rhythm disruptors and can make things worse. Mindfully exposing your body to light or darkness can also help you regulate melatonin production before and after arriving at your destination.
Jet lag is likely to be a natural companion on your travels, but you can reduce symptoms’ severity and duration by following the melatonin-promoting tips above.