1. During our typical 24-hour cycle, when the sun goes down at night, melatonin is secreted by the pineal gland, causing us to feel sleepy.
2. When we change time zones or are exposed to light at nighttime during a work shift, our system becomes disrupted.
3. Melatonin supplementation can be extremely helpful to overcome jet lag and nighttime work hours. Taking melatonin in the afternoon and early evening causes phase advance (you get tired sooner), while taking it in the late night or early morning causes phase delay (you get tired later).
4. As a safety precaution, you shouldn't take melatonin within 24 hours of a flight.
In your line of work, you’re likely familiar with melatonin – either having tried it yourself or heard about it from friends or colleagues trying to improve their sleep. When it comes to jet lag or just travel fatigue – which, paradoxically, can leave a person wired and restless while also exhausted – adding melatonin to your sleep protocol could be very effective.
SAFETY NOTE: We recommend NOT taking melatonin for 24 hours before a flight to be safe and make sure that you are not experiencing any drowsiness which can occur. Here is a quote from the FAA:
"Recently, the use of melatonin has been promoted, through the media, as a way to assist with circadian fatigue and jet lag. While studies have demonstrated some benefit from its use, they have also indicated drawbacks from the sedative and hypnotic effects. Additionally, melatonin ingested at the incorrect time may further desynchronize an already troubled circadian rhythm through the addition of another cue. Therefore, it is cautioned that melatonin should not be taken within 24 hours of flying, and professional guidance in the proper use of this neurohormone sought to achieve maximum benefit without adverse reaction. (Sanders DC, Chaturvedi AK, Hordinsky JR (1998). Aeromedical Aspects of Melatonin-An Overview. Washington DC: DOT/FAA/AM-98/10)"
First, let’s look at the science. I believe deeply that people are better off with a real understanding of biological processes rather than just following a recommendation. Knowledge is power, so let’s do it!
Melatonin is a hormone secreted by the pineal gland in response to cyclically dimming light (like the sun going down) and falling body temperature. As mentioned already, when darkness falls during our typical 24-hour cycle, our body temperature lowers and our melatonin levels increase, producing sleepiness. This works well when we’re hanging out in one time zone or not altering our sleep cycle because of scheduling demands. But when we change time zones or are exposed to light at nighttime during a work shift when we would normally be heading to sleep, our system becomes disrupted. For example, at home, heading toward bed, you experience darkness outside and can also soften your own lights to transition to sleep. But if you’re spending time in a busy, brightly-lit air terminal right before heading home or to a hotel, you may be low in melatonin and find it hard to fall into a drowsy state.
Research shows that melatonin supplementation can be an exceptionally helpful tool in overcoming jet lag and nighttime work hours by helping regulate the circadian system. Melatonin acts on the body’s clock genes by means of the SCN (internal circadian clock) and promotes that elusive sleep experienced by frequent travelers. Taking 0.5-3 mg of melatonin two-three hours before local bedtime has been shown to help resynchronize circadian oscillators while improving nighttime sleep and alertness during the day. My general suggestion is 3 mg, 30 minutes before you want to fall asleep.
As mentioned, sleep is normally initiated during the falling phase of body temperature and the rising phase of melatonin secretion. Our melatonin levels are highest in the late evening. This means that taking melatonin in the afternoon and early evening causes phase advance (you get tired sooner), while taking it in the late night or early morning causes phase delay (you get tired later).
Of course, you have to align your work demands with your need for sleep. You don’t want to take melatonin before you start a work shift, as that’s when you need to be alert and highly productive. The effects of melatonin that you take exogenously also last for up to 6 hours, so be careful not to take melatonin too close to the start of a shift. So every day might be a bit different when it comes to melatonin supplementation, depending on your schedule.
Remember: travelling for work and for leisure require different approaches to melatonin supplementation. You want to be energized while on shift but be able to sleep after unusual situations, like being exposed to bright light at air terminals. You need to avoid melatonin supplementation during work hours, only using it after your shift to promote sleep.
Today’s POWER-UP: Talk to your doctor about possibly using melatonin
While taking exogenous melatonin may help with jet lag or falling asleep, possible side effects from melatonin include daytime sleepiness, dizziness, headache and loss of appetite. It’s always advised talk to your doctor before taking it and to start with a low dose to see how it affects you.
The information and advice provided in this program is intended to assist Sky Regional employees with improving their general health. It is not intended and should not be used in place of advice from your own physician or for treatment or diagnosis of any specific health issue. Sky Regional is not responsible for the content of this program which has been specially developed and is being provided to you by the Wells Group Inc., in consultation with Sky Regional. By participating in this program you acknowledge that undertaking any new health, diet and/or exercise regime involves certain inherent risks, that you assume such risks, and that you release Sky Regional and the Wells Group Inc. from any responsibility or claim relating to such participation.