Nothing is more frustrating than needing to be and feel awake and alert, but you just can’t for whatever reason. Although life is usually very busy for those who have regular 9 to 5 jobs and families to run, it’s quite different for people whose jobs have them covering odd shifts or traversing the country through different time zones and long journeys (ahem business travelers).
I admire the people who can continue to live “like that”—working when most of the world is sleeping or working mostly from the road or an airport. It’s very difficult not only to sleep well (and regularly), but also to eat well and find a routine that jibes with your family life, too.
And there are more people who fall under this category than you might think: According to U.S. labor statistics, about 20 percent of the workforce or about 19.7 million U.S. workers are early risers who begin work between 2:30 a.m. and 7 a.m.m.
That kind of timing can throw any body rhythm out of whack—a rhythm that’s essential to feeling sleepy or awake at the right time. Let’s not forget about others like traveling athletic teams, tourists, and experts in their field who are called to speak, consult, and interview across the country. Back when I was rigorously promoting my book, my schedule fit the bill! I’m thankful I don’t have to do that 365 days a year, so I’m sympathetic to those who do.
Which is why I was happy to read about a new study this week that offers hope for the lagging jet-setters and people dedicated to irregular job hours. Turns out that an insomnia drug that helps the body produce more melatonin, the sleep hormone that starts pumping when night falls to signal your body that it’s time to go to sleep, may improve Zs for jet-lagged travelers and shift workers. The drug is called tasimelteon, or VEC-162, and it’s just been shown to help people sleep longer and more deeply than a placebo.
So why not just take melatonin as a supplement instead? Given the availability of this supplement today, you’d presume it’s safe and effective.
It’s true that melatonin is a hormone your body produces to help it regulate your sleep-wake cycles, but taking additional melatonin in the form of a supplement can be difficult. It’s not a regulated drug under the FDA, so without knowing your source, it could be trouble.
Having to take a drug at all to maximize sleep quality isn’t ideal, but in many cases it’s better than the alternative. If only the entire world could keep operating if everyone slept at night and work and played during the day. Maybe the cavemen—who didn’t live in a global 24/7 society—really did have it better.