Doctor's Review: Medicine on the Move

December 11, 2017
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How to beat jet lag

What are the best ways to prevent and treat jet lag? Melatonin is now freely available in Canada and has been suggested as a “cure” for jet lag. Does melatonin work? If so, how does it work? Are there any side effects or contraindications? What dose should be taken and when should it be taken?


Jet lag is a problem that, for those affected, can be quite profound, having a major impact on the ability to work or partake in vacation activities after a prolonged flight. There are several strategies that can minimize its impact, including ensuring that you are well rested when you travel, adjusting your sleep habits (if possible) before you travel, staying hydrated with water and juice (rather than coffee) and keeping active with exercise.

A U.S. military study has suggested that the “Anti-jet lag diet” developed at the Argonne National Laboratory may be effective in preventing jet lag, but this is a very intensive diet used for four days before departure; its efficacy was proven among healthy young adults during military deployments.

As for melatonin, the data is somewhat mixed; while there are studies suggesting benefit, there are other large studies showing none. A Cochrane review of 10 studies concluded that there appeared to be evidence that taking melatonin was, overall, effective in the treatment of jet lag. This analysis recommended a dose of 2 to 5 mg, taken at night after arrival for several days. This was felt to be most effective for those with a history of jet lag and for people crossing 5 or more time zones. It should be emphasized that this guidance was for adults only, and melatonin hasn’t been approved or extensively studied for this indication in children.

Michael J. Rieder, MD

This article was accurate when it was published. Please confirm rates and details directly with the companies in question.

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