You guys. If you, like myself, have never heard of the magical properties of melatonin as a sleeping aid, I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say that your life is about to change.
A few months ago, as I was transitioning off isotretinoin (and therefore birth control pills), I talked to my gynecologist about some of my issues with getting natural periods again. Aside from nausea, cramps, and insatiable hunger (isn’t that enough?!), I have a habit of insomnia for a few nights leading up to my period. Until I was saying that out loud to my doctor, I hadn’t really thought about that side effect – I hadn’t noticed it as a pattern. My gynecologist told me she hadn’t heard of that symptom either. But, like any respectable doctor who didn’t recognize this link, she immediately consulted what she calls The Bible. Doc flipped through a comically large women’s health book until she discovered that insomnia and menstruation are not so uncommon due to hormonal fluxes that suppress natural melatonin levels. Boom. She suggested dabbling in melatonin supplements because they’re non-habit forming and are hormones that everyone’s body naturally produces every night (when working properly). Well, I forgot. I didn’t think of that conversation again, except for a few sleepless nights when it was too late to do anything about it.
Until a couple of weeks ago, when I was packing for a family vacation to Italy. My final semester of grad school is almost over and I’m planning a local food festival, so timing for this vacation meant skipping a week of school, work, and event planning. In other words, looming jet lag and insomnia were just not an option. In a moment of clarity, I walked into CVS to pick up melatonin about a week before my flight. Boy am I glad I did!
To adjust to the supplements, my doctor had suggested that I begin taking them several days before I expected needing them. I began taking 1 mg at night, about an hour before bed. Your body produces melatonin hormones in the evening as your body relaxes and prepares for bed. Overexposure to blue light/daylight (hello, computer screen) is just one of the ways in which natural melatonin production can be suppressed. Melatonin supplements work by artificially inducing your circadian rhythyms so when it’s bedtime, your body automatically knows it’s time to shut down.
I asked some friends about their experience taking it and got mixed responses. The best advice was to not take it immediately on a long overnight flight, but to wait until the drink carts had come by and everyone was settled and dozing around you. My sister and I both took melatonin supplements on the flight over and each night that we were in Italy. I was drowsy on the first day (I mean, we only slept maybe 4 hours on the flight), but otherwise, jet lag wasn’t really an issue. And returning to the US, I forgot to even think about jet lag because I just didn’t have an issue. Melatonin saved the day!
I will caution you that there is one thing that melatonin just simply can’t do: as far as I know nothing can make unpacking and doing laundry after a trip pleasant. Anyone have any tips for that?
PS – some other things I do to help with sleep:
1. I swear by Flux: it’s a computer program that reduces the blue light coming from your laptop. If you MUST do work at night, I highly recommend this program to adjust the intensity. It’s also a great cue when your screen changes in the evening that you should think about putting away the computer before bed.
2. I hate those digital lit clocks, so I opted for an alarm clock that has an optional back-light. It also has a nice feature that blinks light in the morning to slowly wake you before the sound starts with your alarm. Sometimes I wake up to that light before I even hear the alarm clock.
3. Bedrooms are no-computer and no-phone zones. I leave my iPhone and laptop in the living room and I don’t regret that one bit.
4. I have a sound machine, like the kind you buy for babies. I’m not ashamed. The train passes about 20 feet from my window at all hours of the day and night. I also have an award winning guitarist living a thin wall away from my bedroom. For these reasons, my trusty sound machine doesn’t let me down.
Have YOU tried melatonin? Any other jet lag tips we should know about?