Melatonin - for sleeping on a plane

Melatonin is our preferred sleep aid for flying and travelling. 

When it comes to sleep remedies there are plenty of options available. Medicated sleeping pills will knock you out but may not be the best solution. Actually a medically induced sleep could be worse for you, particularly on a plane, because you really need some natural movement in your body. And you’ll probably wake feeling stiff and groggy.

Some people swear by the “big red sleeping pill” (a glass of red) but I find you feel worse for it on arrival. The effects of alcohol are increased on a flight which means you get more dehydrated than usual. Probably better to limit the alcohol and use a natural sleep aid.

Some of the most common natural sleep aids include: Lavender, L-theanine, Magnesium, Valerian, Meditation and Melatonin. This post is about melatonin. (Will write about the others soon).


What is melatonin?

Definition: Also known as N-acetyl-5 methoxytryptamine, it is a hormone secreted by the pineal gland in inverse proportion to the amount of light received by the retina. Important in the regulation of our biological rhythms.

In mammals it regulates physiological changes according to the season.

In humans it is best known for helping to regulate the body’s circadian sleep-wake cycle.

Melatonin production is affected by light exposure to the eyes. Melatonin levels rise during the night and fall during the day.

The majority of the hormone is produced at night time, in the dark, typically from around 9pm, while production during the daylight hours drops to almost nothing.

Interestingly melatonin production starts declining from puberty, so by the time we reach old age we are not producing much it all. This may explain why we sleep less, and sleep disturbances are more prevalent, as we get older.

It is really important to note that this is not a natural remedy – it is a hormone. Melatonin signals to your brain that it is time to prepare for night time and therefore sleep. Taking it does not technically induce sleep but it does have sleep-promoting effects.

IMPORTANT: You should always check with your doctor before taking any kind of supplement. This post should not be read as medical advice. 

If you’re pregnant or breastfeeding you should NOT take melatonin.

Melatonin studies

Melatonin studies show that it lowers the body temperature, decreases motor activity and increases fatigue. Research has demonstrated effectiveness in inducing sleep (better than a placebo), improving sleep quality, and enhancing alertness during the day time.

Studies also show it reduces the number of awakenings but not necessarily total sleep time. It has shown positive results for limiting jet lag and helping to reset rhythms for shift workers.

However, you should also know:

  • A lot more research needs to be done to conclude that melatonin is actually effective and safe for long term use with sleep problems and insomnia.
  • It may not be as effective on jet lag from travel across more than 2 time zones.
  • Some studies show no benefit at all!

It really comes to down to what works for you and your body. So you might want to try it out one night before getting on a flight – and consult with your doctor.

When should I take melatonin?

You take melatonin at night time, 1-2 hours before you intend to go to sleep. You can also take it at the night time of your imminent destination to prepare your sleep patterns and for jet lag prevention.

Melatonin should not be taken in the daylight or bright light – so if you’re on a flight with bright lights you will need to wear a good quality sleep mask.

How long does it take for melatonin to work?

Melatonin works for approximately 3-4 hours after you’ve taken it.

How much melatonin should I take?

A higher dose does not always mean better, and too high a dose can have negative effects.

Talk to your doctor about the best dosage for you. It will depend on other medications you’re taking, your health, age etc.

I take 1 x 5mg (GNC Melatonin 5mg) before going to sleep on a flight (at night) and I also take it on arrival (before bed) to help settle into my sleep pattern. (Note we both use this dosage. Both fit and healthy, 36 year old female and 43 year old male).

A recommendation I read for jet lag:

Adults may take doses between 0.5 – 5 mg at least 1 hour prior to bedtime after arriving at the final destination. An alternative method involves taking doses 1 – 5 mg at least 1 hour prior to bedtime for up to 2 days before departure and for 2 to 3 days after arriving at the final destination.

IMPORTANT: You should always check with your doctor before taking any kind of supplement. This post should not be read as medical advice. 

If you’re pregnant or breastfeeding you should NOT take melatonin.

Where can I buy melatonin?

It is easy to find in pharmacies around the world – particularly in airport pharmacies.

You don’t need a prescription for it. Note, I also read that no other hormone is available without a prescription. So we should take it seriously.

Check the dosage on the label. Some countries sell higher dosage as a standard than others. 

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