Medication can seem like an easy solution to sleep challenges, particularly for thos who travel regularly to recover from jet lag. But there are many problems with sleep medications, learn how to manage sleep challenges without medication

Many of us have considered taking medications for sleep because it seems like a simple and easy solution to our challenges. Sleep difficulties have a significant impact on our lives, but are medications for sleep really a good solution? They may seem enticing- particularly if you travel for work and are regularly dealing with different time zones. So, let’s talk about whether or not you should be taking sleep medication and whether or not sleep medications can help with jet lag. You can manage jet lag and get better sleep without the use of medication. 

Should you take sleeping pills?

Sleep medication, both prescription and non-prescription, should only be used in conjunction with making lifestyle changes and should only be used intermittently, for a short duration of approximately 5-10 days. 

More extended use 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). 

When taking sleep medications it’s important to note that you should never mix them with alcohol, and you should always ensure you have allowed for at least 7-8 hours to sleep after taking medication, as it can affect your ability to function the next day.

What about melatonin?

I’m sure you’re thinking ‘what about melatonin? It is natural isn’t it?’ Yes, melatonin is the key hormone that increases sleepiness. About 50% of people with sleep problems can benefit from up to 3mg of melatonin, taken 0.5 to 1.0 hours before bedtime.  

But, just because melatonin is a natural hormone doesn’t mean it should be used regularly. Melatonin can cause some side effects including:

  • headache, 
  • short-term feelings of depression, 
  • daytime sleepiness, 
  • dizziness, 
  • stomach cramps, and 
  • irritability.

It can also interact with other medications. So, the answer to the question should you take sleeping pills? It should also be used sparingly and in conjunction with lifestyle changes, good sleep hygiene, and CBT.

Cognitive-behavioural treatment (CBT) is the most effective treatment for sleep problems, as well as associated mood and worry or anxiety issues, all of which commonly impact our ability to sleep. It may also be helpful to talk to your family physician to ensure there are no other underlying issues that may be impacting your sleep. 

Sleep Medication and Jet Lag

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 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?

You can! Here are some tips to minimize jet lag without the use of medication. 

Tips to Manage Jet Lag Without Medication

  • Adjust 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!). This 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 can have negative impacts on your physical and mental health. So, try to manage jet lag and other sleep difficulties without medication. It can also be helpful to implement good sleep hygiene principles into your daily routine to get better sleep more often.