Sleep, so necessary for proper functioning of the body and mind, can sometimes be elusive. Melatonin is one of the tools you may turn to in the quest for a good night’s sleep. The National Institutes of Health reports that melatonin use doubled between 2007 and 2012. Approximately three million people have turned to this substance with the desire to fall asleep faster and get a more restful night of sleep. It is important to know and understand how melatonin works in order to determine if this is the right sleep aid to use.
13. Melatonin Is a Natural Hormone in Your Body
Your body naturally manufactures melatonin on its own. Melatonin is a hormone released by the pineal gland in your brain. The human body associates the darkness of the evening hours with sleep and the brightness of daytime with wakefulness. When the sun sets and the light grows dim, melatonin production is stimulated. Melatonin begins working about two hours before bedtime by helping your body relax and prepare for sleep. It works along with your circadian rhythm, which signals your body when it is time to eat, sleep, or awaken. Melatonin also helps with the regulation of body temperature, blood pressure, and levels of other natural hormones.
12. Melatonin Doesn’t Have an Immediate Effect
Taking a melatonin supplement right before bedtime will not induce immediate sleep. Melatonin needs to be taken about two hours before bed in order to induce the calming and relaxing effects that will help you transition into sleep. You can increase the effectiveness of your body’s own melatonin production by dimming the lights about two hours before bedtime as well. Avoid drinking caffeine, and switch off your smartphone or laptop. These devices emit blue light, which stimulates your brain and prevents the production of natural melatonin.
11. Melatonin Isn’t Regulated by the FDA
While many melatonin supplements are available over-the-counter in health food stores, pharmacies, and grocery stores, they are not regulated by the FDA. This means that they have not undergone the clinical trials and testing that regulated drugs must undergo to be deemed safe and effective. Additionally, supplements may include extra ingredients not listed on the label. Finally, since supplements do not undergo the clinical trials used to determine ideal dosing, the available dosages of melatonin may widely vary. If you choose to purchase melatonin supplements, look for products made by reputable companies.
10. Melatonin Doesn’t Work in All Cases
This supplement may not work in every situation in which sleep is desired. It may be helpful to use melatonin supplements when traveling to different time zones, if you have trouble falling asleep at night, or if you have a disorder resulting in problems with your sleep-wake cycle. It may not be helpful for treating general insomnia. Aid your body’s own production of melatonin by getting outside in the morning and afternoon to soak up some sunshine, and by dimming the lights in your home in the evening hours.
9. Melatonin Is Not Addictive
Unlike many prescription sleeping pills and sleeping aids, melatonin is not addictive. Most sleeping pills, called sedative-hypnotics, exert their effects by depressing the central nervous system. Over time, they can cause dependence, require increased dosages in order to achieve the same effect, and become habit-forming. Melatonin does not cause dependence and the effects do not appear to wear off with time.
8. Melatonin Can Have Side Effects
Although melatonin appears to be safe and is not habit-forming, it may have some negative side effects. According to the Mayo Clinic, the most common side effects of melatonin usage are headache, dizziness, nausea, and daytime grogginess. Less common side effects are depression, tremor, anxiety, stomach cramps, irritability, and confusion. Some users may experience low blood pressure when taking this supplement. Since melatonin can result in daytime sleepiness, you should not operate machinery or drive a car within five hours of taking it.
7. Melatonin Can Interact with Other Medications
Several prescription medications may have drug interactions with melatonin supplements. These include medications that are metabolized by the liver, such as certain antidepressants, muscle relaxants, and anti-anxiety medications. Melatonin may also interact with certain blood pressure medications, immunosuppressants, and seizure medications. Since melatonin can cause decreased blood clotting, it can have effects on bleeding and bruising when taken along with blood thinners. Additionally, melatonin can increase the stimulant properties and side effects of methamphetamines. If you are taking prescription medications, talk with your doctor before using melatonin supplements.
6. Melatonin Is Not Appropriate for Children
Supplementation with melatonin products is not recommended for children, as it may interfere with their development. Since the effects of supplemental melatonin on the hormones and reproductive development of puberty are unknown, it is best to avoid the use of melatonin in this age group. One exception is the use of melatonin for disorders such as autism spectrum disorder if the benefits have been found to outweigh the risks.
5. Melatonin Comes in a Variety of Forms and Dosages
This supplement comes in a dazzling array of dosage forms. There are tablets and capsules to be taken by mouth. Sublingual tablets can be dissolved under the tongue. Topical gels deliver melatonin through the skin and may be used to treat sunburn. Furthermore, melatonin comes in a solution that is injected intravenously (into the veins) for supplemental treatment of certain tumors. Without clear guidelines, it can be difficult to know the proper dose to use. Check with your doctor to determine whether you are a good candidate for melatonin supplementation and to determine a good starting dose for you.
4. Long-Term Effects of Melatonin Are Unknown
Melatonin is effective in helping some people to fall asleep or to readjust their circadian rhythm to allow sleep at appropriate times. However, the long-term effects of this supplement are unknown. If you find melatonin supplements to be helpful for insomnia, try discontinuing their use after one or two months. Perhaps a few weeks of melatonin was what your body needed to reset your circadian rhythm and improve your sleep patterns. If you see no effect from melatonin supplementation after one or two weeks, it will probably not help you. If sleep problems persist, contact your physician to determine the root of your sleep problem.Related: 8 Little Changes You Can Make to Sleep Better in Just One Day
3. Melatonin Can Interfere with Your Sleep Cycle
It is important to be aware that if used at the wrong time, melatonin can confuse an already off-balance sleep cycle. Melatonin must be taken at the time at which your body normally produces this hormone. This means that taking melatonin right before you lay your head on your pillow won’t result in instantaneous slumber. Be sure to take melatonin in the evening when darkness sets in. Some people find melatonin supplementation effective when taken only 30 minutes before bedtime. Others find they must take the supplement as early as three hours before bedtime.
2. People Who Should Avoid Using Melatonin Supplements
While short-term melatonin supplementation may be useful for some people, others should avoid the use of this hormone supplement. Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding should not use melatonin. Patients with autoimmune disorders, depression, or seizure disorders should avoid melatonin supplementation. Diabetic patients and people with high blood pressure may need to avoid the use of melatonin due to the effect on blood sugar and blood pressure levels.
1. Melatonin Is Not the Only Choice
If you have a difficult time falling asleep or staying asleep, taking a pill is not your only choice. Talk with your physician to rule out any underlying medical conditions that may be causing sleeplessness. Set the stage for a good night’s sleep by avoiding caffeine, strenuous exercise, and heavy meals before bedtime. Prepare your body for rest by turning down lights and engaging in quiet activities. Avoid the use of devices such as cell phones, computers, and electronic notebooks at bedtime, as their blue light stimulates wakefulness.Related: Can Melatonin Help with Weight Loss?