August 15th, 2011
08:06 AM ET
Every weekday, a CNNHealth expert doctor answers a viewer question. On Mondays, it's pediatrician Dr. Jennifer Shu.
Question asked by Ken from Palm Springs, California:
I'm about to travel to the other side of the world for a week and have to work the day after I get back. I've heard melatonin can help prevent jet lag when I return and would rather take that than medicine. What else can I do?
Thanks for your question. Traveling across the world and turning your biological clock essentially upside down can definitely cause problems with sleep, both while you are away and when you return.
Melatonin is a hormone found in the body that is also available in synthetic form as a supplement that may help stimulate sleep. As with medications, there may be side effects when taking supplements.
For melatonin, these can include nausea, headaches, dizziness, confusion and nightmares. Also, supplements may interact with any medications you may be taking. Before your trip, your doctor can advise whether melatonin is a good option for you and if so, the appropriate amount to take and when to take it (usually about an hour before the desired sleep time and either upon your return, during your trip, or both).
Some nonmedical options to try include staying hydrated, exercising or being active during the time you are supposed to be awake, and getting enough overall sleep before, during and after travel if possible.
Using eyeshades or room darkening curtains or blinds and a white noise machine may help you sleep better when you want to. Light therapy (such as from exposure to the sun or another bright light) may also help get you back on track.
Some people find that either increasing or avoiding certain foods (such as eating more protein to stay awake or more carbohydrates when trying to sleep) can help them recover more quickly from jet lag.
Readers, if you have any other tips, please feel free to comment below. Thanks!
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