Melatonin and jet-lag

I do a lot of travel from the US West Coast to Asia, Europe, and US East Coast. I’ve seen great results lately using Melatonin to help with jet lag.  But finding exactly how to use Melatonin was not simple and advice conflicted, so I wanted to share my easy recipe. Of course this is not a medical recommendation, just my experience.

My recipe: take 0.5-1.0mg of Melatonin exactly 9 hours before the time you want to be awake (regardless of current time where you are). Go to sleep if and when you can.

Here are some scenarios to see how this works.

Sleeping within the current time zone.  You’re staying in place and want to be up and awake at 7am.  Subtract 9 hours: 7am-9 = 10pm. Take melatonin at 10pm and go to sleep then or later. Set an alarm for 7am. When you wake, no matter how much sleep you had, you should be better adjusted to the time.

Flying East from US to Europe (or Asia to US). Suppose you’re leaving Seattle for a 10-hour flight that arrives in France at 8am. You want to be up and awake at 8am. In this case, the time where you are is irrelevant. Subtract 10-hour-flight – 9 hours = 1 hour into the flight. Take melatonin 1 hour into your flight, even if that’s at 4pm. Sleep as much as you can. In my case, this usually means that I don’t sleep much on the flight although I am groggy — but 9 hours later I feel more awake.

Flying West from US to Asia (or Europe to US). This is the hardest one. You have a 12-hour flight from Seattle to China. It leaves at 2:00pm Seattle time and gets to China at 6:00pm the next day, +18 hours in the time zone. You want to be on a schedule to be awake at 8:00am *China* time. First, figure out what time you want to be awake on *Seattle* time. 8:00am – 18 hours = 2:00pm. Now back up 9 hours from that to get the Melatonin time: 2:00pm – 9 = 5:00am. You want to take melatonin at 5:00am Seattle time. This means to take it twice: first (optionally but ideally) at 5:00am or soon thereafter on the day you’re leaving Seattle. Then stay up when you arrive — no naps!– and take Melatonin again at 11pm China time (8am-9 hours) or as close to that as you can stay up.

It appears that melatonin works for some but not all people. There are also conflicting sets of advice out there, such as taking Melatonin just before bedtime, which is not very different from my recipe in many cases — or, more differently, to take it in the morning or afternoon. So some experimentation may be needed to see what works best for you.

Another thing to manage is how to stop taking melatonin after arriving. My schedule it to use it for 3 days, then skip a day, then take for up to 2 more days if needed. Then stop.

In any case, be sure to get plenty of light and exercise. Walk as much as possible! Get outside, especially if it’s sunny. Don’t spend all your time indoors or in meetings. Use the hotel’s fitness center. Eat lots of fresh fruit and vegetables (or cooked, if needed where you’re going). And don’t take a nap of more than 90 minutes — set an alarm. Good luck!

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