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Jet Lag and the Power of Melatonin

By Donald Saunders

Even though melatonin is probably the most studied and best understood natural sleep remedy for insomnia, its use is somewhat controversial; not least because melatonin has yet to be approved by any regulatory body. In addition, despite many studies conducted over several years, opinion remains divided over whether it actually works or not.

Melatonin in a hormone that occurs naturally in your body and is secreted by a very small pea-sized organ in the brain called the pineal gland. The release of melatonin is controlled by your body's internal clock, or circadian rhythms, and melatonin plays a vital role in regulating your body's sleep-wake cycle. As darkness falls, your body releases melatonin to signal that it is time to sleep and, as daylight returns, the effects of melatonin are suppressed in preparation for normal waking activity.

The major cause of jet lag is the shift in time between that recorded by your body clock and the actual time at your destination following a long-haul flight. The secret to curing jet lag is therefore to re-adjust your body clock to bring it into line with local time and taking melatonin can be an effective way of doing this.

Melatonin can be particularly helpful if you are traveling from west to east. For example, if the time difference between your point of departure and your destination is say 5 hours, your body clock will be saying that it is 6 pm, when local time will be showing 11 pm. In other words, your internal clock will be telling you that it's time for you to start your normal evening activity when everybody else will be thinking about going to bed. By taking melatonin in this situation you can also trigger your body into thinking that it is time for sleep.

In one of the few studies undertaken on the use of melatonin, a group of travelers were given melatonin supplements for three days before a long-haul flight and again for three days after their arrival. All of people taking part in this study reported experiencing much lower levels of fatigue and found that their normal sleeping pattern returned quite quickly.

In a second study, involving twenty volunteers who traveled regularly between New Zealand and the United Kingdom, half of the volunteers were given melatonin supplements before departure and after arrival and the other half of the group were given a placebo. The results of the study showed that those given melatonin regained their normal sleeping pattern in about half the time taken by those given the placebo.

On balance melatonin would seem to be of benefit to a significant number of users and it is fair to say that it is worth giving it a try. It is not however a cure in itself and should be used as just one part of an overall jet lag management plan.

Copyright 2005 Donald Saunders

About the author:
Donald Saunders is the author of a number of health-related publications, including several on the subject of insomnia and other sleep disorders. Discover the facts about Jet Lag and read more about Melatonin by visiting his website today.

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