What Travelers Need To Know About Using Melatonin
If you’ve ever experienced jet lag while traveling or had trouble sleeping on a long flight, then you know all-too-well what an impact that lack of sleep can have on the rest of your travels. One option you may be looking into as you prepare for your next trip, then, is that of taking a melatonin supplement to help you sleep on the private plane or better adjust your sleep schedule before traveling to a destination in another time zone.
As with any type of supplement, however, it’s always a good idea to do your research and gain a better understanding of how melatonin works and the kinds of potential side effects it could cause. From there, you can better evaluate whether adding this supplement to your regimen is right for you.
Please be aware that this is meant to be an informative post, but the information here is not intended to serve as medical advice. It’s always best to consult with your physician before adding a supplement to your regimen, whether it be on a temporary or regular basis. And of course, if you think you may be suffering from a sleep disorder or other medical condition that is preventing you from sleeping well, you need to schedule an appointment with a medical professional.
Melatonin Supplements: How Do They Work?
Melatonin is a hormone that your body naturally produces to help regulate your natural sleep cycles. As you age, your body may begin to reduce its production of melatonin, though researchers aren’t entirely sure why. There are also some outside factors that can lower your body’s production of melatonin, either on a short-term or permanent basis.
Being exposed to screens (such as cell phone screens) that emit blue light, for example, can hinder melatonin production. The same applies to drinking caffeine or consuming alcoholic beverages.
When your melatonin levels are off, you may have a hard time falling and/or staying asleep. When you take a melatonin supplement, you can almost instantly increase the amount of melatonin in your body—which can help you fall asleep and sleep more restfully without many of the inherent side effects of sleep aids.
Melatonin supplements come in a wide range of options and dosages. You can find these supplements in the vitamin section of your local grocery store, pharmacy, or at a health foods store. They come in both pill form and gummy form, depending on your preferences, with dosages ranging greatly from about 0.2 to 20mg. For those with sleep disorders related to a lack of melatonin production, doctors can also prescribe higher dosages of melatonin, though this is quite rare.
Many travelers take melatonin to help with jet lag or to make sleeping on a plane ride easier. For example, a traveler who needs to adjust his or her sleep schedule for a different time zone may use melatonin to help him or her sleep during times of day when the body’s natural production of melatonin would be lower. This way, when they arrive at their destination, they can be better adjusted to the difference in time zone.
Others may use melatonin while flying, especially on red-eye flights, to enjoy more restful sleep so they can arrive at their destinations feeling more energized.
Potential Side Effects of Melatonin
While melatonin is generally considered to be a safer alternative to other types of sleep aids (which may be habit-forming), it’s important to understand that any supplement can come with some inherent side effects. Make sure you have a solid understanding of melatonin and its common/less common side effects before you decide whether you want to give it a try.
The most common side effects of taking melatonin include:
- sleepiness and/or drowsiness
- stomach cramps
In most cases, these side effects are caused by taking a dosage that is too high. This is why it is generally recommended that you start off with a low dose of melatonin; you can always increase it gradually as needed. And of course, because drowsiness can be dangerous, you shouldn’t drive or operate heavy machinery if you’re experiencing this side effect after taking melatonin.
Other side effects of melatonin supplements are less common but can be quite serious. When taken with certain medications (such as blood thinners, for example), melatonin supplements can actually increase blood sugar levels to a dangerous degree. This can post a serious health risk to those with diabetes.
Some other potential but less common side effects of melatonin supplements include:
- interference with ovulation in women
- low blood pressure
- lower body temperature
It’s also important to understand that although melatonin isn’t habit-forming like many other sleep aids, your body can become reliant on it. If you take it for a long period of time, your body may have a harder time being able to produce melatonin naturally, which can make it even more difficult to fall asleep and/or stay asleep after you stop taking it.
Is Melatonin Safe For Travelers?
Many of the potential side effects of using melatonin supplements are caused by long-term usage. As a result, melatonin is generally considered to be safe for short-term use, such as while traveling. One important exception to this may apply if you’re taking any blood-thinning medications. This is why it’s always a good idea to consult with your doctor before you begin taking a melatonin supplement for the first time; he or she will be able to assess your current medications and check for any potentially dangerous interactions.
Using Melatonin to Sleep on a Flight
If you’re interested in using melatonin to get better sleep while flying, there are some tips worth keeping in mind. For starters, it’s best to try melatonin before your trip so you can have some time to figure out what dosage works best for you. Ideally, you’ll want to begin with a low dosage (such as 0.3mg to start) and then work your way up as needed. For example, you might try a 0.3mg dose one night, and if that doesn’t seem to help you sleep better, you may increase to 0.5mg the next night.
Slowly increasing your dosage is always recommended. Because melatonin comes in a wide range of anywhere from 0.2 to 20mg doses, you may want to give yourself a week or more to figure out which dose option is best for you. Once you have a better idea of how much you need to take to achieve the best sleep, simply take that dose either shortly before or even during your flight. Because melatonin works almost right away when you take the right dose, it’s not something you’ll want to take before driving to the airport.
Remember that you’re permitted to pack vitamins, supplements, and medications on your carry-on luggage. However, don’t be surprised if your baggage receives extra screening.
You’ll also want to make sure you have plenty of time to sleep on the plane if you’re going to take a melatonin supplement. Too short of a flight and you may wake up still feeling drowsy and groggy, which could be dangerous if you need to pick up a rental car shortly after your arrival. With this in mind, melatonin supplements are generally recommended for longer flights where you’ll be able to sleep for a substantial amount of time before landing.
You can also use melatonin to help adjust your sleep schedule before flying to a different time zone. The idea is to take melatonin to help you sleep during times when you would otherwise be unable to sleep easily before your flight. By doing this in the days leading up to your flight, you may actually be able to arrive at your destination already adjusted to their schedule. Goodbye, jet lag!
Other Tips for More Restful Sleep
Taking a melatonin supplement can certainly make it easier for you to fall asleep on the plane and possibly even sleep more restfully, but there are some other tips you may want to follow for more restful sleep while you’re flying.
Remember that sunlight and blue light are both enemies of your body’s natural melatonin production. As a result, you may want to stow your electronic devices away for the duration of your flight if you plan on trying to sleep. Some devices may have a “blue-light-blocking” feature that will help to filter out some of those blue rays as well. If you’re lucky enough to have a window seat, take advantage of this by shutting the window shade—especially if you have a daytime flight.
If you don’t have a window seat, then donning an eye mask will help eliminate light distractions while also sending a pretty clear message to others on the plane that you wish not to be disturbed.
Noise can also be a major sleep inhibitor when you’re flying. Whether it’s a crying baby in the seat behind you or a loud conversation happening in your row, you may have trouble falling asleep on a plane even with help from a melatonin supplement. This is where having a pair of quality noise-canceling headphones or even a basic set of ear plugs can make all the difference. If you have a good set of headphones, consider streaming some white noise so you can drown out the sounds around you and lull off into dreamland more easily.
Is a Melatonin Supplement Right For You?
As you can see, there are some great uses for a melatonin supplement—especially if you’re a frequent traveler. When taken in the right dosage, melatonin can help you get better sleep on a flight or help you adjust to a new time zone, thus reducing that annoying jet lag. As with any vitamin or supplement, however, it’s a good idea to understand how melatonin works and what its potential side effects are so you can make an informed decision. If in doubt, be sure to consult your doctor.