In this article we look at melatonin and find out if it can help you sleep better. Is melatonin manufactured naturally in your body or should we take a supplement?
Sleep problems are incredibly common. Some statistics suggest up to 70 million people in the US are affected by poor sleep. The problem is not restricted to the US though. Sleep disorders affect people all over the world.
Lack of quality sleep robs you of energy and leaves you feeling fatigued. This can make it difficult to be productive at work and interfere with your life in numerous ways.
Irritability, poor memory and concentration: these are just a few problems that can result from poor-quality sleep. Diabetes and high blood pressure are a couple more.
So, where does melatonin come into the picture and what is its relationship with sleep?
The fact that you are reading this article suggests you are hoping to find answers to these questions.
In this article, I will explain what melatonin is, how it works, and why people take melatonin supplements to help them to sleep.
What Will I Learn?
What Is Melatonin?
Melatonin is a hormone. Most of the melatonin in your body is produced by the pineal gland, which is located in your brain.
The main thing melatonin does is regulate sleep so it’s often referred to as the “sleep hormone.”
As with most things in human biology, there’s a lot going on behind the scenes.
During the day, the natural light that enters the eyes keeps melatonin levels low. As the day progresses and daylight fades, melatonin levels rise. This increases feelings of tiredness and preps the body for sleep.
People who have problems sleeping often take melatonin supplements to help keep their sleep cycles on an even keel. Such supplements are also a popular treatment for jet lag.
In addition to its virtues as a sleep aid, melatonin is also a powerful antioxidant that may offer additional benefits.
Some people take melatonin to improve eye health. Others use it to ease the symptoms of tinnitus or treat stomach ulcers and heartburn.
Melatonin may also be good for raising human growth hormone (HGH) levels in men. Due to the various important roles HGH plays in the body, this is a highly desirable outcome in itself.
How Does Melatonin Work?
Melatonin works alongside your body’s circadian rhythm. This is a little like an internal clock that tells you when it’s time to sleep and, of course, when it’s time to wake up.
Additionally, melatonin has a role to play in regulating body temperature, blood pressure and certain hormone levels, including HGH.
As daylight fades, melatonin levels increase making you feel weary and signaling your body it’s time to go to sleep.
Melatonin also binds with specific receptors in the brain and, in so doing, reduces nerve activity. This is another way this important hormone preps your body for sleep.
The melatonin present in the eyes also has an important role to play in this regard. It further enforces the need for sleep by reducing dopamine levels.
Dopamine is a hormone that helps you maintain a waking state.
Despite the fact that research has revealed such a lot about the various ways melatonin aids sleep, scientists are still unsure of all the mechanics involved.
Some people don’t create enough melatonin in their bodies. This makes it difficult for them to fall asleep.
There continues to be a need for further study, but several factors appear to be capable of inhibiting melatonin production. Stress is one of them. Smoking is another. So is exposure to too much light at night.
Conversely, not gaining sufficient exposure to light during the day can affect melatonin levels too. Shift workers often experience this problem.
You may be surprised to learn aging may affect melatonin levels as well.
As you grow older your body naturally eases back on melatonin production. It does the same with many other important hormones including testosterone and HGH.
Taking melatonin supplements is one way to try and redress the balance.
In addition, another technique for a restful nights sleep is add some essential oils such as spearmint or peppermint to humidifier and gently diffuse the air.
Do Melatonin Supplements Really Help You to Sleep?
Research suggests taking melatonin before bed can help you relax and fall asleep. A number of studies confirm it.
During an analysis of 19 randomized, placebo-controlled trials involving people with sleep disorders, scientists found melatonin successfully reduced how long it took the subjects to get to sleep. On average, it helped them to fall asleep seven minutes faster.
Many of the study participants also said the taking melatonin significantly improved the quality of their sleep.
Additional research shows taking melatonin is also a good way to fight jet lag.
Jet lag is a condition that happens when you travel across several timezones in a short space of time. Your body still feels as if it’s in its original timezone even though it may actually be many hours ahead of it—or behind.
For example, after a long day of travel, your circadian rhythm may be telling you its midnight because that’s the time it is in the country you left. However, the time at your final destination may actually be noon, leaving you with a lot of day to go.
Taking melatonin can help be an effective way to reduce jet lag because it helps bring your body’s circadian rhythm back into sync.
Scientists analyzed 10 studies exploring the effects of melatonin on travelers who’d traversed five time zones or more. The collected data shows treating jet lag with melatonin was a remarkably effective way to go.
The analysis also shows larger doses and smaller ones may work equally well. Some of the studies involved doses of 0.5 mg. In others, the dose was 5 mg. In all cases, melatonin worked the same.
How to Use Melatonin (To Help You Sleep Better)
If you have any severe health issues it may be a good idea to get the okay from your doctor before you start using melatonin to help you to sleep.
Getting a doctor’s approval is also a wise precaution if you are using medication(s). The same goes for women who are pregnant or nursing a child.
When you begin using melatonin, it’s best to start with a low dose. Even if it’s less than the dose recommended on the box.
A dose of 0.5 mg (500 mcg) half-an-hour before bed is a good place to start. If that sounds low, try not to lose sight of the fact research shows it to be an effective dose.
Stick with the low dose for a few nights and monitor for side effects. If the amount you are taking doesn’t appear to be helping and there are no side effects, try a slightly higher dose.
However, never exceed the dose the manufacturer recommends. If the recommended dose is higher than 5 mg, it may be wise to play it safe and check with your doctor before exceeding 5 mg per day.
Does Melatonin Cause Side Effects?
Does melatonin cause side effects? That’s an important question. There would be no point in taking it If it helped you to sleep but made you feel ill.
The good news is, current research suggests it’s safe to use and non-addictive.
However, as with any other form of supplement or drug, it’s never possible to entirely rule out side effects. The way one person responds to something may not be the same as another. That’s just the way life is.
A minority of people using melatonin report experiencing mild side effects including dizziness, headaches, and nausea.
Melatonin supplements may also interact with certain medications including antidepressants and blood pressure medication.
If you have difficulty sleeping, think melatonin may help and are currently taking medications of any kind, forgo the temptation to do any mixing unless your doctor says it’s okay.
The Bottom Line
Melatonin is a hormone that plays an important role in sleep. Some people with sleep disorders take it in supplement form to try and improve the quality of their sleep.
Taking melatonin is also a popular way to treat jet lag and research suggests that it works.
Most people appear to be able to take melatonin without experiencing any side effects, but there are no guarantees that you will be able to do so as well.
For that reason, it’s wise to begin with a low dose. Doing so will allow you to see if melatonin supplements are compatible with your unique body chemistry.
That depends on where you live. In the USA it’s easy to buy melatonin without a prescription. In Australia and Europe, you will need to get a prescription first. If you live elsewhere in the world, the staff at your local pharmacy should be able to tell you if a prescription is necessary or not.
This is a question that many people ask when they are considering using melatonin for the first time. It’s a good question too.
Like testosterone, melatonin is a hormone. Most people are aware taking synthetic testosterone in the form of steroids suppresses normal testosterone production.
Fortunately, melatonin supplements are not the same. Research shows taking melatonin supplements does not scupper your body’s ability to produce melatonin.
That means although you may be back where you started, when you stop taking melatonin supplements you should not be in a worse situation than you were before.
There are two forms of melatonin used in supplements. The first one comes from the pineal glands of animals. The second type is synthetic. It’s generally accepted that this is the most acceptable form.
Although the synthetic version is the most popular some supplements contain animal-derived melatonin. The label on the bottle should tell you which version is being used.
If it doesn’t, unless you don’t mind using the animal-derivative, it may be best to choose an alternative instead.
Obviously, if you are a vegan or vegetarian, the synthetic version will be the only one suitable for you.
Apart from the issues with animal rights, natural melatonin presents another problem. It may contain undesirable viruses.
One way or another, if you are thinking of using melatonin, the synthetic version is best.
Research suggests melatonin supplements are safe, but some users still experience side effects. Fortunately, the prospect of being one of the unlucky ones is relatively low
It’s certainly possible you may be able to take melatonin during your pregnancy. However, unless your doctor has confirmed it is safe it would be unwise for you to do so.
As with anything you do while you are pregnant, it’s not just a case of thinking about how it may affect you. It’s also important to consider how it may affect your baby. A doctor is the best-qualified person to offer the necessary advice.
If you are taking melatonin to help you to sleep you only need to take it once per day. The best time to do so is generally half-an-hour before going to bed.