Melatonin and its relevance to jet lag
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Jet lag is a disorder in which body rhythms are out of phase with the environment because of rapid travel across time zones. Although it often produces minor symptoms it can cause serious problems in those who need to make rapid critical decisions including airline pilots and business travelers. In this article the authors review basic knowledge underlying the body clock, the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) of the hypothalamus, and the manner in which it regulates the sleep/wake cycle. The regulation of melatonin by the SCN is described together with the role of the melatonin receptors which are integral to its function as the major hormonal output of the body clock. Several factors are known that help prevent and treat jet lag, including ensuring adequate sleep, appropriate timing of exposure to bright light and treatment with melatonin. Because travel can cross a variable number of time zones and in two different directions, recommendations for treatment are given that correspond with these different types of travel. In addition to use of bright light and melatonin, other factors including timed exercise, timed and selective diets and social stimuli deserve study as potential treatments. Moreover, new melatonin agonists are currently under investigation for treatment of jet lag.
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