How Much Melatonin Should I Take for Jet Lag? Dose & Timing

Experts usually recommend 0.3 mg to 1 mg of melatonin for jet lag, depending on your direction of travel. Crossing fewer than 5 time zones? You may not need it.
Updated
2024-02-16
9 MINS
Written by
Jeff Kahn, M.S., Rise Science Co-Founder
Reviewed by
Chester Wu, MD, Rise Science Medical Reviewer
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How Much Melatonin Should I Take for Jet Lag? What You Need to Know

  • You probably won’t need more than 1 mg of melatonin for jet lag. You may need much less. How much you need will depend on many factors.   
  • Take smaller doses in the morning to shift your body clock later (when traveling west) and larger doses four to five hours before the time you want to sleep to pull your body clock earlier (when traveling east). 
  • Take the smallest dose possible to reduce your risk of side effects of melatonin. 
  • If you’re crossing fewer than five time zones, you may not need melatonin at all.
  • The RISE app can tell you when to take melatonin supplements, when to go to bed to make the most of your body’s own melatonin production, and when to do 20+ sleep hygiene habits that can help you fall and stay asleep, both when adjusting to jet lag and every other night.

Getting hit with symptoms of jet lag is one of the worst things about travel. Luckily, melatonin can help you adjust to new time zones faster. 

Below, we’ll dive into how much melatonin you should take for jet lag and when to take it exactly. And, as melatonin is only a short-term fix, we’ve covered how the RISE app can help you fall asleep when you stop taking melatonin.

Advice From a Sleep Doctor

Advice From a Sleep Doctor

“There are no set rules when it comes to how much melatonin you should take for jet lag. I’d recommend taking as small a dose as possible. This could be between 0.3 mg to 1 mg of melatonin. Take melatonin in the morning to sleep later and four to five hours before bed to sleep earlier than usual. Alongside supplements, time your light exposure to match your new time zone to help melatonin shift your body clock as planned.”

Rise Science sleep advisor and medical reviewer, Dr. Chester Wu, who’s double board certified in psychiatry and sleep medicine.

How Much Melatonin Should I Take for Jet Lag?

Many experts say you should take 0.3 mg to 1 mg of melatonin for jet lag. How much you take depends on which direction you’re traveling in and how many time zones you’re crossing.  

Take smaller doses in the morning to move your circadian rhythm — your internal clock — back (when traveling west) and larger doses four to five hours before the time you want to sleep to bring your circadian rhythm forward (when traveling east). 

There’s no one recommended dose of melatonin to take for jet lag. It’s tricky to give a blanket recommendation as everyone reacts differently to melatonin supplements. 

Higher doses of melatonin aren’t always needed. There’s research showing a 0.5-mg dose of melatonin can be just as effective as a 5-mg dose at treating jet lag (although the 5-mg dose was more effective at making people feel sleepy). So smaller doses may be better at shifting your circadian rhythm, and larger doses may help when trying to sleep at a time you usually wouldn’t, like during the day in your old time zone.  

Most clinical trials study 2-mg doses of melatonin, so even though you can find 5, 10, and even 20-mg doses of melatonin, these larger doses aren’t as well-researched. Plus, research into melatonin often compares large doses of melatonin to a placebo. This means we don’t know whether a lower dose could be as effective. 

Taking large doses of melatonin increases your chances of side effects, and if you take a large dose in the afternoon or evening and wake up with high levels of melatonin still in your system, you may accidentally shift your sleep schedule backwards, when you’re trying to pull it forwards.

We’ve covered how many mg of melatonin to take here, including how much to take in other scenarios like shift work, and other ways you can reduce jet lag here.  

Heads-up: Melatonin isn’t safe for everyone. Check with a healthcare provider if you’re pregnant, breastfeeding, have a medical condition, or are taking medication. Melatonin can also cause unintended daytime sleepiness or drowsiness when you wake up, so you may want to take low doses — or skip melatonin altogether — if you need to drive when traveling or be at your best. Flight crew are sometimes cautioned against using melatonin to avoid the risk of drowsiness on the job. 

Another heads-up: Stress, pre-existing sleep disorders, and quality of travel (think lack of space, poor food, and alcohol) can all make jet lag feel worse, making it harder to adjust. However, even if your symptoms are more severe, you should still stick to about 1 mg of melatonin or less. If you have insomnia, talk to your healthcare provider before taking melatonin as the supplement isn’t usually recommended for those with the sleep disorder and it may interfere with any insomnia treatments you’re doing.

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When Should I Take Melatonin for Jet Lag? 

You should take melatonin for jet lag in the morning if you want to stay up later (when traveling west) and four to five hours before the time you want to feel sleepy if you want to fall asleep earlier (when traveling east). 

There are no set guidelines for when to start taking melatonin for jet lag. It can depend on how many time zones you’re crossing. In general, you want to take melatonin for as few days as possible.

Here are your options: 

  • You can take melatonin a few days before your flight, the day of your flight, and a few days after until you’re adjusted to the local time zone. 
  • Take melatonin the day of your flight and then until adjusted to your new time zone. 
  • Take melatonin when you’re in your destination until adjusted to the time zone. 

Many people wait until they have jet lag to start treating it. Acting early by taking melatonin a few days before your flight can help you start slowly shifting your circadian rhythm so you adjust to the new time zone faster. This is what many experts recommend and it can be especially useful if you’re going to cross many time zones and want to make a big shift in your sleep schedule. 

However, you don’t want to start shifting your circadian rhythm too soon as you don’t want to be out of sync with your current time zone for longer than you need to be. 

Advice on when to start taking melatonin for jet lag varies. For example, some research recommends taking melatonin on the day of your flight and when in your new destination when crossing five or more time zones. If you’re crossing seven or eight time zones, this research recommends taking melatonin one to three days before your flight to slowly start adjusting before you travel. 

The National Health Service (NHS) in the UK, on the other hand, recommends taking your first supplement when you land in your destination.

How Long Should I Take Melatonin for Jet Lag? 

There are no set guidelines on how long you should take melatonin for jet lag. It’s usually advised that you take melatonin until you’ve adjusted to your new time zone. Although the NHS recommends only taking melatonin for jet lag for up to five days in total. 

How long it takes to adjust can vary from person to person. In general, it can take one day per time zone you’ve crossed to adjust to jet lag. For example, if you fly from New York to London, you’ll cross five time zones, so it may take you five days to adjust to London time. 

For some people, it can take two days per time zone, so it may take you 10 days to adjust. You therefore shouldn’t need to take melatonin for longer than this, and in fact, melatonin should help you adjust faster, so you should need to take it for fewer days than this. 

People experiences jet lag differently depending on what’s known as their phase tolerance — some people are more sensitive and adjust slower to new time zones than others, so they may need to take melatonin for longer.

For example, night owls have a natural tendency to go to sleep and wake up later, so it may take early birds longer to adjust after flying west (when you want to go to sleep later than your usual time zone) than it does night owls.

How long it takes you to adjust to a new time zone, and therefore how long you need to take melatonin for, can also depend on your age. Older adults may take longer to adjust, although check with your healthcare provider before taking melatonin. 

Melatonin works best when you take it as a chronobiotic (something that shifts the timing of your circadian rhythm), and during the day when your natural melatonin levels are low, not as a hypnotic (something that forces you to sleep). So you shouldn't take melatonin to just fall asleep on the plane or once you’ve gotten over jet lag.

And you may not need to take any melatonin for jet lag at all. Melatonin doesn’t work for everyone and studies on its effectiveness are mixed. 

For example, one systematic review looked at eight studies on the use of melatonin to treat jet lag. Although the researchers said melatonin appears to be relatively safe and it can be effective for some, they provided only a weak recommendation in favor of melatonin use for jet lag and said more research is needed to fully recommend the treatment. 

Other methods, like adjusting the timing of your light exposure and meals to match your new time zone may be even more effective at helping you get over jet lag than melatonin supplements. 

We’ve covered more on how long before bed to take melatonin here.

Expert tip: Make sure you’re maintaining good sleep hygiene (the habits that can help you sleep), especially getting and avoiding light at the right times. Light can suppress melatonin production, so getting it at the right times can help in the treatment of jet lag as you can adjust to the new time zone faster. Get out in natural sunlight in the morning, or use a portable light box if it’s dark when you wake up, and avoid light in the run-up to bedtime. 

RISE can guide you through 20+ habits — including when to get and avoid bright light — and tell you the best time to do them each day based on your own biology. 

RISE users say this helps them get over jet lag faster. 

“I have tried many sleep apps, and thanks to RISE, I was able to even out my jet lag in just a week.” Read the review.

This light timing can also help you keep up your new sleep pattern when you stop taking melatonin and help keep your natural melatonin levels high when you’re not traveling. 

RISE app screenshot showing when to get and avoid bright light
The RISE app can tell you when to get and avoid bright light.

 

RISE users on iOS 1.202 and above can set up their get bright light reminder here.

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How Much Melatonin Should I Take Before My Flight? 

There’s no set guideline for how much melatonin to take before your flight. It depends on which direction you’re traveling in and how many time zones you’re crossing. In general, experts recommend sticking to 0.3 mg to 1 mg of melatonin and taking as low a dose as possible. 

You may not need to take any melatonin before your flight at all. Melatonin doesn’t put you straight to sleep, so it won’t be that effective if you’re taking to to just fall asleep on your flight. And melatonin isn’t that effective if you take it when your natural levels are high (like in the evening or at night), so it might not help you sleep if you take it just before an overnight flight. 

There are some things you can do to sleep on a plane without taking melatonin. 

How to Sleep on a Plane? 

You can sleep on a plane by: 

  • Avoiding caffeine, alcohol, and large meals 
  • Wearing blue-light blocking glasses or sunglass to limit light exposure before the flight
  • Using an eye mask 
  • Wearing earplugs or listening to white noise (check out RISE’s sleep sounds for some calming options)
  • Wearing layers, so you can remove clothing so you’re cool enough for sleep or add clothing if the air conditioning is too strong  
  • Using a neck pillow to make yourself as comfortable as possible (or booking a first-class seat or a seat with more legroom, if possible)
  • Setting your watch to the time in the destination you’re flying to when you board and trying to time your sleep and meal times to match 
  • Avoiding over-the-counter sleeping pills — they can come with side effects and health risks and they don’t shift your circadian rhythm like melatonin does 

You may not need to sleep on the plane at all. Check the time in the destination you’re flying to and only sleep if it’s nighttime in that time zone. Sleeping on the plane during your new destination’s daytime could make it harder to adjust and fall asleep at night when you’re in the destination.

And, unfortunately, it’s not always possible to sleep on a plane. Even if you take melatonin, you may find the light, noise, discomfort, and regular disturbances that come with air travel mean you don’t get much shut-eye on board. 

Don’t panic, just keep an eye on your sleep debt. This is the amount of sleep you owe your body. The lower your sleep debt, the better you’ll feel and perform and the less severe your jet lag symptoms will be. 

Lowering your sleep debt by going to bed a little earlier or sleeping in a little later, depending on your direction of travel, can also help you adjust more quickly to a new time zone, so you can take less melatonin for less time. 

Lower your sleep debt as much as you can before your flight, so you go in well-rested, and then pay back any sleep debt you build up when you get to your new destination. 

You can learn more about sleep debt here. 

RISE can work out how much sleep debt you have each day and help you lower it.

RISE app screenshot showing how much sleep debt you have
The RISE app can work out how much sleep debt you have.

RISE also works out how much sleep you uniquely need, so you know what to aim for each night. 

You may need more than you think. When we looked at how much sleep 1.95 million RISE users 24 and over need, we found 48% of them need eight hours or more. Sleep needs (the genetically determined amount of sleep you need) ranged from five hours to 11 hours 30 minutes. 

The RISE app can tell you how much sleep you need
The sleep needs of RISE users.

RISE users on iOS 1.202 and above can click view their sleep need here and view their sleep debt here.

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How to Use Melatonin for Jet Lag?  

You can use melatonin for jet lag by taking the supplement at a time that’ll shift the timing of your circadian rhythm closer to your new time zone. If you take melatonin in the morning, it pushes your circadian rhythm back, helping you sleep later than usual when traveling west. If you take melatonin four to five hours before the time you want to feel sleepy, you can pull your circadian rhythm forward, helping you sleep earlier than usual when traveling east. 

Try to go to bed at a time that’s normal for your new time zone. Melatonin won’t force your body to sleep, though, so if you’re trying to sleep earlier than usual, you also want to shift your light exposure and meal times earlier and take plenty of time to wind down before bed in dim lighting to help promote sleepiness. 

It’s not usually advised to go to bed when you’re not sleepy, especially if you have insomnia. So if you don’t feel sleepy, do a relaxing activity in low lighting until you do. 

Remember to set an alarm at a normal wake-up time the next morning so you don’t sleep in too late.

What is Melatonin? 

Melatonin is a hormone produced by your pineal gland. It helps prepare your body for sleep and keeps your sleep-wake cycle in check.

When you take a supplement version of it, you can shift the timing of your circadian rhythm, helping you fall asleep when you usually wouldn’t. 

This can be useful when you have jet lag. For example, you may want to go to sleep at 11 p.m. when visiting London, but it’s only 6 p.m. back home in New York. The use of melatonin can help shift your sleep schedule, so you adjust more quickly to the new time zone.

We cover more on what melatonin does here and on what jet lag is exactly here. 

Heads-up: Get medical advice if you’re considering melatonin for a sleep disorder. According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, sleep aids like melatonin may not be an effective treatment.

Take Small Doses of Melatonin for Jet Lag 

There are no set rules on how much melatonin you should take for jet lag, but in general, experts recommend taking 0.3 mg to 1 mg of melatonin. Take as low a dose as possible and only until adjusted, not beyond. 

RISE can guide you through 20+ sleep habits — including when to get and avoid light. The app can also tell you your ideal bedtime, when your body’s rate of melatonin production will be at its highest, and when to take melatonin based on your circadian rhythm.

All this can help you fall asleep more easily, both when traveling and when back home. 

Don’t just take our word for it: 80% of users get better sleep within five days.

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