A night or two of poor sleep might leave you feeling sluggish, but sleep deprivation over a long period of time can impact your overall health. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), long-term lack of sleep can increase the risk for a number of chronic diseases, like heart failure, diabetes, high blood pressure, and stroke. Because sleep can affect your well-being, obtaining a good night’s sleep as often as you can is vital.
If you struggle with sleep disorders like insomnia, taking medication to help you fall asleep might be tempting. After all, feeling bright-eyed and bushy-tailed the next day depends on a restful night. However, prescription medications like Ambien and Halcion can offer you a full night’s sleep, but you might still experience grogginess the next day. So, rather than taking prescription medication, many people turn to melatonin instead.
Your body makes melatonin on its own as a way of responding to darkness. The melatonin available as pills, however, is a synthetic version used to supplement the melatonin your body manufactures. In the U.S., melatonin supplements are available over-the-counter and are relatively inexpensive, making melatonin a viable option when treating insomnia. Melatonin can help regulate the sleep-wake cycle, alleviate jet lag, and treat insomnia.
Although melatonin has other roles in the body, melatonin’s main function is to align the body’s 24-hour internal clock (circadian rhythm) to the sleep-wake cycle. The body releases melatonin when the sun sets, triggered by the lack of light. At sunrise, the body’s melatonin decreases due to the appearance of light. Exposure to natural or artificial light during sleep can disrupt the circadian rhythm and block melatonin.
About two hours after taking medication, an individual starts to become drowsy and is ready for sleep. For some people, the small amount of melatonin that the body releases is not enough to induce sleep. In these cases, melatonin supplements can help relieve sleep issues. Before using melatonin, however, keep the following facts in mind:
6. Melatonin Is Safe to Take Every Day
Unlike some prescription drugs, melatonin is not addictive. Current research indicates that melatonin is safe to take every night. Doctors recommend small doses of melatonin (typically 1 to 3 milligrams every night). By using smaller doses, you can avoid experiencing negative side effects. Unwanted side effects from melatonin are:
- Morning sleepiness
5. The Research into Melatonin for Shift Workers Is Inconclusive
When it comes to melatonin, research indicates its effectiveness for shift workers is inconclusive. Because shift workers are exposed to light at irregular intervals, they may on melatonin — which is light-sensitive — to achieve adequate sleep. For shift workers, melatonin works well when:
- All outdoor and indoor light is blocked prior to and during sleep.
- Their shifts are, for the most part, regular. For example, their night shifts are the same time every night.