Why I Bought Melatonin Today

IMG_0349Today I bought a bottle of melatonin. It’s a grape-flavored bottle of hope. Getting a good night’s sleep has become increasingly elusive for me, despite observing best practices. Add travel to the mix—including crossing the dateline a few times—and my trip to The Vitamin Shoppe to talk with a sales clerk about melatonin dosage was long overdue.

Earlier this month, I flew on a United 787 from San Francisco to Chengdu, China, and the BusinessFirst seat could not have been more comfortable, perfectly conducive to getting a good deal of sleep. (I’m a hardy traveler and pride myself on having flown in economy from SFO to Delhi, curled up against the wall, with nary a complaint. Lie-flat is a luxury to be savored.)

There’s more to sleep on planes than the seat, though. There’s strategy: When and for how long? Aided by wine, Ambien or au natural? On this flight from SFO to Chengdu, I took my cues from Olivier, my seatmate. We’d had a long conversation, so I knew he flies to Chengdu (and Asia) frequently—a jet lag master. When I saw it was lights out for him, I put on my eye mask and pulled up the duvet. I only slept a couple of hours at most (as he did), but I wanted to make sure I was tired when we landed that evening, so I could get to sleep the first night in the hotel. I noticed others waited until later in the flight and slept longer, and I wondered if that was a better or worse strategy.

On the way back, I slept a good six hours and arrived feeling refreshed at 8 a.m. in San Francisco. It helps to be exhausted from a trip, and I find I usually sleep better on the way home. I experienced no jet lag, despite staying up into the wee hours that night on return.

What got me thinking about melatonin was when Olivier suggested I begin taking it two days before leaving Chengdu to prevent the west-to-east jet lag. Of course I had not brought any with me to Chengdu, and to purchase it there would have been a major project. But the conversation reminded me that melatonin may help with my nonplane sleep issues—at home and in hotels. While in Chengdu, I did not sleep well, despite staying in one of the most lovely and comfortable rooms ever. And I notice I toss and turn in most hotels, even without a time zone change, as well as in my own bed.

I’m pinning a lot of hope on my little purple bottle, but suspect it will not work major miracles, just minor. Do you use a sleep aid when you travel? And if you have sleep strategies for flights or jet lag advice, please share in the comments.

(Photo: Nancy Branka)

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