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 Natural Hormones: Uses of Melatonin  

When is the best time to take melatonin for jet lag? For most people, roughly 1 to 3 hours before the new desired bedtime works well. You may also consider splitting the dose. For instance, if you plan to take a total of 6 mg, use 3 mg about 2 hours and 1 hour before bed.

Melatonin can also be used for red-eye flights. Tommy Turner, a 37 year old banking consultant, tells me, "I've used melatonin to prevent jet lag twice. Both times I used a 2.5 mg sublingual dose. I left Atlanta a 7:30 pm and slept on the plane for 5 hours. I arrived in London the next morning, refreshed."

Shift Work
C. Boyes, a pharmacy doctoral student in Corvallis, Oregon, writes, "I work with many people at Salem Memorial Hospital who take melatonin for shift syndrome. They love it. Many of the night shift staff use it. They take a 3 mg dose about 8 am when they get off from work and state that they begin to feel drowsy about 30 minutes later. They claim to sleep better with fewer interruptions. They wake up refreshed with no hangover. I have also seen several doctors begin to routinely order melatonin as a sleep medication for their patients. We have had no complaints from patients, no apparent side effects, and it has been effective in all of the cases so far. The only side effect I have heard of was that one night shift worker said that he had a slightly upset stomach if he didn't take the medication with food."

Folkard and colleagues examined the effect of melatonin supplements on sleep, mood and behavior in a small group of police officers working spans of 7 successive night shifts. Compared to placebo, and to no treatment, melatonin (5 mg) taken at the desired bedtime improved sleep, mood, and led to increased alertness during working hours.

Workers who switch to a night shift can improve their adaptation by exposing themselves to bright artificial light at night and shielding themselves from bright light during the day. Shielding can be accomplished by wearing dark goggles during daylight hours (Eastman, 1994).

Those who regularly change work shifts, such as police officers, hospital employees, and factory workers, are more likely to get sick. They report frequent colds, fatigue, low motivation, and stomach problems. Interpersonal relationships may be affected. When an employee has been used to working 9 am to 5 pm and has to change to an 11 pm to 7 am shift, tremendous stress is placed on the body. The circadian rhythm goes haywire. Hormones are not sure when to rise or when to fall. It may take up to 2 weeks or more to completely readjust to the new schedule. Melatonin supplements can accelerate the process of re-adjustment.

Sleep disturbance influences mood and daytime energy (Totterdell, 1994). Actually, we don't need a study to tell us this, we've all experienced these symptoms after a long, toss-and-turn night. It's hard to be motivated and get things done. Melatonin can improve daytime mood in those who do not normally get a good night's sleep.

Norman, a 55 year old professor, writes, "One thing is for sure. The quality of my sleep has improved tremendously since taking 1.25 mg of melatonin nightly. Hardly ever, almost never, do I feel sleepy in the early afternoon— and this was common before I started taking melatonin. My mood is better." I personally notice increased energy and improved mood and alertness on the days following a great night's sleep on melatonin.

(Excerpted from Melatonin: Nature's Sleeping Pill ISBN: 0963975579)
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 About The Author
Ray Sahelian MDRay Sahelian, M.D., is a popular and respected physician who has been seen on numerous television programs including NBC Today, Dateline NBC, and CNN, and quoted by countless major magazines such as Newsweek He......more
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