What to do when the plan tells you to 'Take melatonin and go to sleep'

Take the melatonin just before you go to sleep. Make sure your bedroom is cool, quiet, dark, and comfortable. We always recommend using a sleep mask and earplugs when sleeping. A warm bath or meditation before bed may help you relax and fall asleep more easily.

When flying:
Take the melatonin just before you go to sleep. Lower the window shade, turn off the overhead light, turn off the TV, and stop using your laptop or tablet. We always recommend using a sleep mask and earplugs when sleeping. 

Even if you can't sleep, wear sunglasses and avoid light to increase your chances of falling asleep.

What type and dosage should I use for jet lag?

With a fast release preparation, the dose used is usually 1-3mg when indicated for resetting the clock (slow release formulations are available but they may stay in the system too long and confuse the circadian rhythm). Doses above 0.5mg usually give blood levels of melatonin much higher than the normal physiological night time rise.

Because melatonin is considered a food supplement in the US, the manufacture and sales of melatonin are less well controlled so there is often considerable variation in the quality and actual melatonin dose across products. It’s also often sold combined with other substances, such as Valerian or St John’s Wort. If you choose to buy a food supplement version of melatonin, use a ‘melatonin-only’ product, without additional substances, and buy it from a reputable pharmacy (they often have own label preparations).

A pill form is likely to be most reliable rather than melatonin-containing drinks or sprays. There’s no evidence that products high in tryptophan, from which melatonin is synthesized, or melatonin such as cherry juice can help shift the circadian clock.

What is melatonin?  

Melatonin is a natural hormone produced only at night — it’s sometimes called the “hormone of darkness”. Melatonin is controlled by the 24-hour circadian rhythm, and its release tells the brain it’s nighttime. We usually start to produce melatonin about 2-3 hours before we go to sleep.

How do melatonin pills help jet lag?  

Approved melatonin pills contain a synthetic version of the hormone but in a much high dose than we naturally produce. 

Taking melatonin will do two things: First, it will help shift the timing of the circadian rhythm to help you overcome jet lag more quickly. Second, it will help you sleep when you are transitioning between time zones by telling the brain to sleep at a different time than normal. 

Melatonin is not a sleeping pill, however, and will not help you sleep once your jet lag is gone.

Do I have to take melatonin? What will happen to my jet lag if I don’t? 

No! You don’t have to take melatonin to make the plan work. The plan without melatonin will still shift your circadian rhythm and reduce your jet lag.

It may, however, take a little longer without melatonin, and you may find it more difficult to sleep without melatonin.

What are the side effects of melatonin?

There are no formal long-term safety studies of melatonin but in research studies, melatonin has been reported to cause headaches upon waking, nausea, and vivid dreams in up to 5% of subjects. Melatonin also causes sleepiness so you should not drive or schedule other tasks requiring alertness within eight hours of taking melatonin. There are no data on how melatonin interacts with other drugs.

Can I give melatonin to other people or children? 

No! In most countries, melatonin is a prescription medication so you should never give it to other people or to children. Melatonin is also not recommended for lactating or pregnant women, people with psychiatric disorders, or those who have severe migraines. 

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