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Stopping Jet Lag Before It Starts

Morning Light, Afternoon Melatonin, Earlier Bedtimes May Help
By
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

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."

About Melatonin

Melatonin is a hormone produced by the pineal gland, which is found in the brain. It plays a role in the sleep-wake cycle of your body's internal clock.

Normally, melatonin levels rise in the mid-to-late evening, stay high for most of the night, and fall in the early morning.

Melatonin supplements are widely available. Researchers don't agree on whether or how much those supplements help with sleep problems, including jet lag.

What Worked

Every day, participants took surveys about how they felt and rated their sleepiness throughout the study. They also kept sleep diaries and wore activity monitors.

The body clocks of those who took melatonin adapted better to the new schedule. The higher dose of melatonin fared best in that regard, but not by much. Plus, people who took the higher dose were sleepier in the evenings after taking the pill.

"Therefore, we recommend using the 0.5 mg dose in combination with morning intermittent bright light and an advancing sleep schedule in any situation in which people need to advance their circadian rhythms," write the researchers.

That includes people preparing to fly east and those with delayed sleep-phase syndrome, the researchers add.

People with delayed sleep-phase syndrome fall asleep very late and have trouble getting up in time for work, school, or other reasons.

What about people flying west? The study doesn't address that. Flying west sets the clock backward -- the opposite of what Eastman's team studied.

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You say you are able to function well with fewer than seven hours of sleep. Some people say they can function on four to six hours of sleep each night, but research shows that adults who get fewer than seven hours of sleep — whether for just one night or over the course of days, weeks, or months — have more difficulty concentrating and more mood problems than people who sleep seven to nine hours.

Since you usually get too little sleep, please talk to your doctor about your sleep patterns. Poor quality sleep can affect many areas of your life and health, and your doctor may be able to help you if you have insomnia or other conditions affecting your sleep.

Sleep deprivation can have both short- and long-term consequences. Learn more about the health consequences of sleep loss. If you're concerned about having trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, assess your risk for a sleep disorder.

It's not surprising you feel that you're not functioning at your best today. Some people say they can function on four to six hours of sleep each night, but research shows that adults who get fewer than seven hours of sleep — whether for just one night or over the course of days, weeks, or months — have more difficulty concentrating and more mood problems than people who sleep seven to nine hours.

Since you usually get too little sleep, please talk to your doctor about your sleep patterns. Poor quality sleep can affect many areas of your life and health, and your doctor may be able to help you if you have difficulty sleeping, have insomnia, or have other sleep disorders.

Learn more about the health consequences of sleep loss. If you're concerned about having trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, assess your risk for a sleep disorder.

It's not surprising you feel that you're not functioning at your best today. Some people say they can function on four to six hours of sleep each night, but research shows that adults who get fewer than seven hours of sleep — whether for just one night or over the course of days, weeks, or months — have more difficulty concentrating and more mood problems than people who sleep seven to nine hours.

It's good that you usually do get more sleep, since sleep deprivation can have both short- and long-term consequences. Learn more about the health consequences of sleep loss. And if you're concerned about having trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, assess your risk for a sleep disorder.

You say you are able to function well with fewer than seven hours of sleep. Some people say they can function on four to six hours of sleep each night, but research shows that adults who get fewer than seven hours of sleep — whether for just one night or over the course of days, weeks, or months — have more difficulty concentrating and more mood problems than people who sleep seven to nine hours.

It's good that you usually do get more sleep because sleep deprivation can have both short- and long-term consequences. Learn more about the health consequences of sleep loss. And if you're concerned about having trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, assess your risk for a sleep disorder.

It's not surprising you feel that you're not functioning at your best today. Some people say they can function on four to six hours of sleep each night, but research shows that adults who get fewer than seven hours of sleep — whether for just one night or over the course of days, weeks, or months — have more difficulty concentrating and more mood problems than people who sleep seven to nine hours.

Since you usually get less sleep, please talk to your doctor about your sleep patterns. Poor quality sleep can affect many areas of your life and health, and your doctor may be able to help you if you have difficulty sleeping or have insomnia or other sleep disorders.

Learn more about the health consequences of sleep loss. If you're concerned about having trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, assess your risk for a sleep disorder.

It's wonderful that you got a good night's sleep last night. Many people struggle to do so. Having a good sleep routine often is the key to getting the quality sleep night after night that your body needs for optimal health. Whether your sleep routine involves taking a warm bath, reading a book, or meditating, it's important to keep your bedtime and routine consistent every night and wake up around the same time every morning.

Click here to read more about the importance of sleep. If you're concerned about having trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, or sleeping too much, assess your risk for a sleep disorder.

It's unfortunate you're not functioning at your best today. You say you had a good quantity of sleep last night, but maybe the quality of your sleep is not as good as it could be? Having a good sleep routine — including a consistent bedtime and wake time — often is the key to getting the quality sleep night after night that your body needs for optimal health. Since you usually sleep this amount, if you often aren't feeling your best, you should consider talking to your doctor. Could you have an underlying condition? Are you feeling anxious or depressed? Have you taken medication that disrupted your sleep? Do you or could you have sleep apnea? Or do you naturally require a little bit more sleep?

Although sleep is crucial for optimal health, some research suggests that sleeping too much can also have negative consequences. Learn more about sleep. If you're concerned about having trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, or sleeping too much, assess your risk for a sleep disorder.

It's unfortunate you're not functioning at your best today. You say you had a good quantity of sleep last night, but maybe the quality of your sleep is not as good as it could be? Having a good sleep routine — including a consistent bedtime and wake time — often is the key to getting the quality sleep night after night that your body needs for optimal health. Since you usually sleep longer, if you often aren't feeling your best, you should consider talking to your doctor. Could you have an underlying condition? Are you feeling anxious or depressed? Have you taken medication that disrupted your sleep? Do you or could you have sleep apnea? Or do you naturally require a little bit more sleep?

Although sleep is crucial for optimal health, some research suggests that sleeping too much can also have negative consequences. Learn more about sleep. If you're concerned about having trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, or sleeping too much, assess your risk for a sleep disorder.

It's wonderful that you got a good night's sleep last night. Many people struggle to do so. Having a good sleep routine often is the key to getting the quality sleep night after night that your body needs for optimal health. Whether your sleep routine involves taking a warm bath, reading a book, or meditating, it's also important to keep bedtime consistent and wake up around the same time every morning.

Although sleep is crucial for optimal health, some research suggests that sleeping too much can have negative consequences. Learn more about sleep. If you're concerned about having trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, or sleeping too much, assess your risk for a sleep disorder.

It's unfortunate you're not functioning at your best today. You say you had a good quantity of sleep last night, but maybe the quality of your sleep is not as good as it could be? Having a good sleep routine — including a consistent bedtime and waking up at the same time — often is the key to getting the quality sleep night after night that your body needs for optimal health.

Since you usually get less sleep, please talk to your doctor about your sleep patterns. Poor quality sleep can affect many areas of your life and health, and your doctor may be able to help you if you have insomnia, another sleep disorder, or conditions affecting your sleep.

Learn more about the health consequences of sleep loss. If you're concerned about having trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, assess your risk for a sleep disorder.

It's wonderful that you got a good night's sleep last night. Many people struggle to do so. Having a good sleep routine often is the key to getting the quality sleep night after night that your body needs for optimal health.

Since you usually get less sleep, talk to your doctor about your sleep patterns. Poor quality sleep can affect many areas of your life and health, and your doctor may be able to help you if you have insomnia or another sleep disorder or conditions affecting your sleep.

Learn more about the health consequences of sleep loss. If you're concerned about having trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, assess your risk for a sleep disorder.

SOURCES:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Effect of short sleep duration on daily activities--United States, 2005-2008. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 2011; 60:239.

Carskadon, MA, Dement, WC. Normal Human Sleep: An Overview. In: Principles and Practices of Sleep Medicine, Fifth, Kryger, MH, Roth, et al. (Eds), Elsevier Saunders, St. Louis, MO 2011. p.16.

Harvard University: "Sleep, Performance, and Public Safety."

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