If you’ve been having trouble sleeping, you might have heard that something called “melatonin” might be able to help.
Melatonin is known as the “sleep hormone” as it is believed that is basically tells your body that it is time to “sleep”. Melatonin plays a crucial role in your sleep-wake cycle and also has a few other important roles in regulating how your body functions.
What is melatonin?
Melatonin is a hormone. A hormone is a natural substance that is created by your body that controls a variety of bodily functions.
Hormones are secreted by your body’s glands into the bloodstream. In the case of melatonin, it is secreted by your pineal gland and is produced in response to darkness.
What does melatonin have to do with sleep?
When natural darkness falls, your pineal gland starts producing melatonin. When the sun rise and you are exposed to natural light again, your penal gland stops producing melatonin. It basically regulates your circadian rhythms and promotes healthy sleep.
Your circadian rhythm is what’s thought of as your internal clock. It controls the times you spend awake and the times when you are asleep and it is “naturally” synched up to the rising and setting of the sun and through the production of melatonin.
What can be treated with Melatonin supplements?
Because of the role melatonin plays in facilitating the transition from wakefulness to sleep, there is some interest in using it to treat sleep disorders.
It is supposed to help with the following sleep disorders:
- Jet lag
This is what happens when you travel from one time zone to another. Basically, your circadian rhythms are messed up by the fact that your “normal” sleep and wake cycle is out of synch with the local day and night cycle.
- Delayed sleep-wake phase disorder (DSWPD)
This is a circadian rhythm disorder which occurs when one’s sleep schedule is shifted by several hours. This tends to manifest in “night owls” or night shift workers who stay awake several hours after the “natural” sleep phase but still have to wake up at “normal” morning hours. This results in sluggishness and lethargy during the day.
Some people think taking melatonin helps with chronic insomnia, but there isn’t much scientific proof of that. According to both the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and the American College of Physicians, there hasn’t been enough strong evidence supporting the effectiveness of melatonin supplements for insomnia.
It could, however, be beneficial for shift workers. There have been some studies that have shown that melatonin supplements can prevent people in the night shift from feeling sleepy at work or have difficulty falling asleep when their shift ends.
It is also believed to be beneficial for patients facing surgery as it can relieve their anxiety and make it easier for anesthetic to work.
How can I take melatonin?
Melatonin can be taken as a dietary supplement, usually in liquid or capsule form. There is no consensus on the “optimal dosage” that these supplements should contain, though the recommended dosages range from about .1 to 12 milligrams.
You will usually find melatonin supplements claiming to have around one to three milligrams, with the recommended dosage of once daily.
In the US, melatonin isn’t as strictly regulated by the Food and Drug Administration as say, a prescription or an over-the-counter drug. In some other countries, however, it’s considered a drug and you might need a prescription to purchase some.
So, in the US, you can probably easily buy melatonin supplements at a pharmacy or even a grocery. Just make sure that you do your research and buy from a reputable source.
There have been instances where the actual amount of melatonin in a supplement were found to not match what was listed in the products label. Also, some might contain an additional hormone called serotonin which could have harmful side effects.
To determine the correct amount of melatonin you should be taking as a sleep aid, you should monitor how drowsy or sleepy you get while taking them. If you find yourself experiencing daytime sleepiness, your melatonin dosage might be too high.
Start with the lowest dosage you can find, then work your way up, ideally with the advice of a doctor or other health care professional.
Should children take melatonin?
Melatonin supplements are also thought to be helpful for children who have sleeping problems. It helps them fall asleep quicker and improves their total sleep time.
The American Academy of Pediatrics believes that short-term melatonin use should be alright for children in dosages of about 3-6 mg.
While melatonin can help with child sleep disorders, however, you shouldn’t a child melatonin substances without consulting with a doctor first.
There’s little information on what long-term melatonin use might do to a child, but remember, it is a hormone. Having too much melatonin in their system could affect their hormonal development and result in an overproduction of another hormone called prolacitin.
Possible side effects of melatonin supplements for children are mild drowsiness, headaches, dizziness, agitation, and increased urination and even bedwetting in the evenings.
Are melatonin supplements safe?
Melatonin is a natural product and there has yet to be any proven side effects. For the short-term, it looks like you can’t have “too much” melatonin in your body so taking supplements shouldn’t hurt.
The possible “mild” side effects that have been reported are sleepiness, headcaches, nausea, and dizziness.
You should, however, be aware that there have been instances where people have had an allergic reaction to melatonin supplements. Also, as with most dietary supplements, there could be a reaction with other medications. People who are taking blood thinner medications or have epilepsy should be careful about melatonin supplement.
To be safe, it’s probably best to consult with your health care provider before adding melatonin supplements to your daily routine.
It’s also unadvisable for older people to take melatonin. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine doesn’t recommend it for use by people with dementia. There are also some concerns that melatonin stays active in older people longer than it would in younger people, this could result in daytime drowsiness.