Melatonin AND fasting for jetlag?
May 8, 2013 8:17 AM   Subscribe

Melatonin supposedly works for jetlag. Fasting supposedly works for jetlag. Can I use both of these together, and if so, how?

In a couple of weeks, I'll be taking a transatlantic trip of the bad jetlag variety (US-->UK). After some research, it looks as though the two likeliest options for relief are melatonin and fasting.

I'd really like to combine these two for double the effectiveness, but I'm a little confused about the mechanisms. Descriptions of the fasting method say that it engages an internal "food clock" to promote wakefulness while you're hungry, while melatonin supposedly signals your regular light-based bioclock that it's time to sleep. So if I were to take melatonin as recommended the night before departure, ~6pm EDT (= 11PM UK), while also in the middle of the suggested 15-hour fast... should the two cancel each other out, or somehow synergize? Or should I be tweaking the times? Everything I've seen mentions the two techniques separately, not in conjunction, so any anecdotes, guidelines or insights would be much appreciated-- thanks!
posted by gallusgallus to Travel & Transportation (11 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
What about drinking lots of water? Are you doing that, too?
posted by oceanjesse at 8:51 AM on May 8, 2013

What were your previous jetlag experiences like, if any?

It looks like you're on the east coast so US->UK isn't that crazy of a jump. 5 or 6 hours at most. I'd think just getting yourself on the UK clock as quickly as possible during the flight (i.e. sleep a little at the start, then wake yourself up and stay away when the plane hits daylight) would work just fine.

And seconding the hydration. That's always key when spending >2 hours on a plane.
posted by JoeZydeco at 8:56 AM on May 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

My transatlantic experiences (D.C. to Copenhagen) have usually been that I'm fine for that "morning" that I arrive, but then by dinnertime, I'm done and just crash for the rest of the night. The rest of my stay is pretty decent, sleep and jetlag-wise.

Obviously, YMMV, but if you can block out time that first "evening" that you're in the UK to sleep from 6pm to 6am, you might be able to overcome without resorting to melatonin/fasting/hydration.
posted by kuanes at 9:37 AM on May 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

I've done that trip many times, as recently as two weeks ago. I've never had great success with the starvation thing, but melatonin is relatively effective. My best advice is to get to sleep as early as you can on the flight over the Atlantic, for as long as you can manage. Once you land, recalibrate with as much sunlight and walking/exercise as you can get. No matter how tired you feel, try to avoid sleeping (even super-brief power naps) until as late as you can manage euro-time. If you can stay awake until at least 9 or 10 UK-time that first night, everything will go much better from that point forward.

Some people swear by prescription sleep aids, but I'm nervous to do them without some adult supervision.

I have no useful advice for handling the trip to Asia, since its knocked me for a loop every time.
posted by Lame_username at 10:03 AM on May 8, 2013

I would like to add a warning about melatonin overdose. Depending on your weight, the usual melatonin tablet could easily be twice to five times the recommended dose: I don't know why this is but most melatonin pills are very small yet contain very high doses.

(I have first hand experience with both jet lag and melatonin overdose, and let me tell you, jet lag is preferable).

Here are some good guidelines on how much you need for jet lag.
posted by rada at 10:09 AM on May 8, 2013

If you can sleep on planes, then yes; sleep when there's dark and be awake when it's light. Many of the US → UK flights are overnighters, putting you into LHR or LGW relatively early in the morning. I do not sleep on planes, melatonin or no, so it is a long, miserable couple of days to get my body properly rested and my internal clock back on UK time.
posted by Emperor SnooKloze at 10:30 AM on May 8, 2013

I have had good success with melatonin at night, co-q-10 in the morning. Co-q-10 is the coenzyme for melatonin and wakes your brain up.

When I moved to Germany (from the US), the thing that caused my sleep schedule to finally adjust was a day of running errands outside in bright sunlight. I wouldn't hesitate to combine melatonin, co-q-10 and sunlight. (I am not too crazy about the idea of fasting while traveling.)
posted by Michele in California at 12:16 PM on May 8, 2013

It sounds like you're over thinking this.

This all probably depends on how your body responds to fasting, melatonin, and jetlag. The best way I've gone about this is to drink plenty of water, take a dose of melatonin right when I get on the plane, and try to get some sleep.

You mentioned in another post that you have ADHD--this is probably obvious, but if you take stimulant medications, you may want to alter your schedule a bit (so you're not taking a dose right before you're trying to get some sleep on the plane, for example).
posted by inertia at 12:29 PM on May 8, 2013

"If you can sleep on planes, then yes; sleep when there's dark and be awake when it's light."

Problem is that a lot of flight crews ask the passengers to roll their window shades down and keep the plane pitch-black as the plane starts to approach sunrise. And at this time of year, that can be before the flight is half-over. So the cabin is dark until WAY past the natural daylight time at the destination. No wonder people are wrecked when they come off planes.

I don't sleep on planes either, but I make sure that I'm watching a video or reading or something when it's time to see daylight. After a few times it's no worse than pulling an all-nighter, no drugs or diet tricks necessary.
posted by JoeZydeco at 12:38 PM on May 8, 2013

I do the east coast to UK journey twice a year and I find it is worse heading back to the east coast than it is heading to the UK.

Here's my method:

As soon as you get on the plane be well fed and watered and ready to sleep. I find having a big meal that ends just before boarding perfect for getting you ready to sleep. (Flying from Philly get a nice burrito from between terminal B and C and eat it in terminal A when they begin calling their moneybags passengers)

Once on the plane put in earplugs and a facemask and tune out. Tell the Attendants you don't need anything until morning and they can just forget about you. Hopefully you have a window seat so you can lean over onto a "pillow" and try and sleep as much as possible. When you wake up for breakfast open the windows to get as much light in as possible.

After landing get out and walk for a bit and force yourself to stay awake until after you've had a light lunch (Mine's usually a BLT from the bakery down the road from where I live) and take a two hour nap from 1:30-3:30 or so.

Get up from said nap and do moderate activity outside. I know it is probably going to be raining but walking around is good now so you have to do it. Get home and have some dinner and get an early nights sleep (say 9 or so trust me you'll be tired) and when you wake up in the morning you'll be fairly adjusted.

On the way back I havent found anything that helps so much so you're out of luck, just try and sleep as much as possible the first morning back stateside.
posted by koolkat at 3:40 AM on May 9, 2013

Two quick thoughts: (1) you might want to reconsider melatonin if you wear contacts (or consider wearing your glasses if you intend to use melatonin), as there is an eye cycle for that chemical and you can end up with very dry eyes. (2) have had a lot of luck with inching up my schedule by half an hour per day during the week before the trip -- you're more than half way to the time change by the time you get there, without really feeling too wrenched around. (It helps if your workplace is flexible enough that getting in 2 hours early and leaving similarly don't make any disruptions.)
posted by acm at 7:30 AM on May 9, 2013

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