Sleep Medication and Jet Lag

by Sophie Sullivan

Written by Dr. Joti Samra, R.Psych.

Sleep Medication and Jet Lag

There are a few things that can really throw our sleep cycle into a frenzy, like reoccurring travel. Entering a new time zone can make it extremely challenging to keep our regular sleep routine and get enough sleep to feel rested and comfortable. On average it takes our body 24 hours to adjust to each 1-hour change in time zone. When we’re feeling the impacts of jet lag it may seem enticing to take sleep medication to force yourself into the new routine. But is that the best solution? Can we manage jet lag without medication?

Negative Side Effects of Sleep Medication

Using sleep medication can have detrimental side effects on your mental and physical health. Extended use often leads to drug tolerance, dependence, withdrawal effects, side effects, and rebound insomnia (where sleep problems after medication cessation become worse than they were prior to taking medications). 

Instead, here are some tips to minimize jet lag without the use of medication. 

Tips to Manage Jet Lag Without Medication
  • Adjusting to the new time zone 2-3 days before you travel (for example, shift your bedtime, waketime, and mealtimes in advance – to start to ‘prep’ your body for the new time zone). 
  • Ensure you’re getting adequate sleep before travel (as a pre-existing “sleep debt” makes jet lag worse). 
  • Minimize alcohol. 
  • Adjust meals and bedtime to the new time zone ASAP. 
  • Due to the gastrointestinal impact of jet lag, it can be helpful to drink lots of water and eat small, frequent, healthy meals when travelling. 
  • Have a consistent, fixed wake-up time (even on weekends!) is one of the most important factors in building a consistent sleep pattern. So, try to maintain a schedule before, during and after travel.

Final Thoughts

Are you thinking; melatonin is a natural sleep medication so it really can’t be that bad, can it? While you’re technically not wrong, melatonin is a natural sleep hormone, regularly using medication for sleep, including melatonin, can have negative impacts on your physical and mental health. So, try to manage jet lag without medication and read more about the negative effects of taking medication for sleep. It can also be helpful to implement good sleep hygiene principles into your daily routine to get better sleep more often.

Dr. Joti Samra, R.Psych. is the Clinic Founder of Dr. Joti Samra, R.Psych. & Associates and the CEO and Founder of MyWorkplaceHealth. Learn more about their clinical counselling and workplace consulting services.


Editor’s Note: This article is from Dr. Joti Samra, R.Psych. & Associates, and has been republished with permission.