Timing of the dose has been found to be crucial, and incorrect use can result in jet-lag being made worse rather than better. One group which started using melatonin after returning home from a nine-day tour of duty reported significantly less jet-lag and sleep disturbance during the recovery period than a placebo group, but another group starting melatonin before arrival home made a worse recovery than the placebo group, reporting more jet-lag and fatigue symptoms (1).
Some other reports from users (not in a formal trial) indicate that users who forgot to take melatonin on the third night after returning home found jet-lag symptoms returning the following day.
The latest study of Norwegian doctors shows that melatonin may not offer much help to weary travelers. 257 Norwegian doctors who traveled to New York for five days each took either 5 milligrams of melatonin at bedtime, 0.5mg at bedtime, 0.5mg taken at various times each day, or placebo (false pills) to be taken on the first day of travel and continued for five days.
The doctors then rated their jet lag symptoms on the day they traveled from New York to Oslo, Norway, or 6 hours eastward, and for the ensuing six days in Norway. The results were compared to earlier baseline measurement of jet lag taken when the doctors traveled to New York.
"This study showed that the different doses of melatonin were no better than placebo at preventing jet lag symptoms," said author Dr. Robert L. Spitzer, a psychiatrist at Columbia University in New York. "I personally have stopped taking it when traveling." he said.
In the study, about 63% of all participants reported at least moderate jet lag on their first day back in Norway, followed by improvements in the next five days. The most commonly reported symptoms were fatigue, daytime sleepiness, decreased daytime alertness and trouble concentrating or thinking clearly, researchers report.
1. Petrie K, Dawson AG, Thompson L, Brook R. A double-blind trial of melatonin as a treatment for jet-lag in international cabin crew. Biol Psychiatry 1993; 33:526-530.
2. American Journal of Psychiatry 1999;156:1392-1396.