Stopping Jet Lag Before It Starts

Morning Light, Afternoon Melatonin, Earlier Bedtimes May Help

From the WebMD Archives

Nov. 2, 2005 -- A little prep work may help eastbound travelers dodge jet lag, a new study suggests.

The plan used in the study boils down to three steps:

  • Getting bright light in the morning
  • Taking half a milligram of melatonin in the afternoon
  • Bumping bedtimes up one hour every night

The study appears in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism.

The researchers included Charmane Eastman, PhD. She works at the Biological Rhythms Research Lab at Chicago's Rush University Medical Center.

Destination: Sleep Lab

The small study included 44 healthy nonsmokers who were 19-45 years old.

Normally, participants got eight hours of nightly sleep. They didn't have sleep problems, major caffeine habits, or recent overseas travel or night-shift work.

Participants didn't fly anywhere exotic or even leave their time zone. Instead, they spent time at the sleep lab where Eastman works.

Bedtimes Crept Earlier

For the first few nights at the lab, participants slept normally. Then, they were sent to bed one hour earlier every night for three nights.

Meanwhile, their sleep and activity were monitored. They weren't allowed to get out of bed if they didn't fall asleep on time, or to nap during the day.

Their daytime routine was also a bit different than normal.

Letting in the Light

First thing in the morning, participants didn't roll out of bed, grab a bowl of cereal, and brush their teeth.

You would need two hours at the start of your day to match the researchers' plan.

The participants sat at a desk in front of a light box, which pumped out bright light for 30 minutes at a time. Then the light box switched off for half an hour, for four cycles per morning of bright light.

In the afternoon, each participant took two pills. They didn't know it, but one of the pills was a sham (placebo).

What about the second pill? For some, it contained half a milligram of melatonin. Others got a higher dose of melatonin (3 milligrams). A third group just got another placebo pill. No one knew which pill was which.

The timing of the pills was adjusted slightly each day to allow for the "time change."