Sleep is great! Nothing beats the feeling of freshness and vigour that follows a good night’s sleep. But unfortunately, sleep doesn’t come so easy for some people. In fact, an estimated 60 million Americans suffer from sleepless nights.
So, it comes as no surprise, really, that sleeping pills have become commonplace among Americans. And while some of these pills are okay, others come with negative long-term effects, But there’s one sleep aid that has been gaining popularity for a while, and it’s called melatonin.
But what exactly is melatonin, how does it work and how do you know whether this popular nootropic supplement right for you? This article answers these questions and many others. So, sit back, relax and follow this article till the end, okay?
What Is Melatonin… Really?
Unlike most other sleep drugs, melatonin is actually produced naturally by the body. It is a hormone that is secreted in the brain’s pineal gland. Melatonin is commonly referred to as the sleep hormone because, you know… it helps you sleep. But that isn’t all it does — more on that in a moment.
Okay, so if melatonin is produced in the human body, where do they get the supplements? Well, that’s just the thing — melatonin production isn’t exclusive to humans, it is also produced by animals and plants.
Specifically, melatonin can be found in meat, eggs and fish, as well as plant products like seeds and leaves. Plants, in particular, are a good source of melatonin, as they need it to combat environmental and oxidative stress.
Thus, melatonin is extracted mostly from plants and packaged into supplements to meet all your sleep-hacking needs.
Melatonin is available as an over-the-counter (OTC) supplement in the United States, which means you can just walk into a drug store and get it. But in countries like Australia, you’re going to need a doctor’s prescription before you can lay your hands on it.
How Melatonin Works
Although it is commonly referred to as a sleep drug, melatonin itself won’t knock you out. All melatonin does is to inform your body that it’s dark and you need to rest. And this makes it easier for your body to relax and drift off to sleep.
Sounds complicated? It really isn’t.
Here’s how it works — melatonin controls your body’s internal clock, (a.k.a., the circadian rhythm) and this clock controls your sleeping and waking up. Melatonin does this by reacting to the amount of natural light available.
Here’s what I mean.
During nighttime (dark conditions) melatonin production increases and it is released into the brain by the pineal gland. This gives your body the sleep signal. Conversely, light suppresses the production of melatonin, therefore melatonin level drops drastically, during daytime. This helps you stay awake.
Got it? Great!
Although it isn’t entirely clear how melatonin induces sleep, here’s what we do know:
- To help you sleep, melatonin binds to receptors in the brain to reduce nerve activity. This reduces wandering thoughts and promotes relaxation.
- It also works on the eyes where it reduces the level of dopamine (the wakefulness hormone), in an attempt to get your eyes shut.
- In addition, melatonin helps to regulate blood pressure, body temperature and hormone levels.
All these factors interplay to promote relaxation and initiate sleep.
Okay, now that we’ve got all that mumbo-jumbo out of the way, let’s take a look at how melatonin can help you.
Benefits of Melatonin
Okay, apart from helping you get a good night’s sleep, melatonin comes with a plethora of other health benefits. Let’s take a look at some of them.
It helps to reset your internal clock:
If you’re a shift worker, then you probably know how frustrating it can be to get a good night’s sleep after days of pulling night shifts. The same is true of the jet lag that accompanies moving to a new time zone.
Either way, melatonin can be a life saver for you. Melatonin has been shown to reduce symptoms of jet lag and shift worker syndrome by synchronizing your internal clock with the time change.
According to a recent study that examined the effect of melatonin on people who travelled through multiple time zones, melatonin was incredibly effective at reducing jet lag, both at lower and higher doses.
It supports eye health
Melatonin doesn’t only help you doze off, it also have a positive effect on the eyes. How so? Well, melatonin is a powerful antioxidant — which means it protects against certain unfavorable processes.
This protective effect could help reduce the chances of coming down with eye-diseases like age-related macular degeneration (AMD).
Sounds unbelievable? Well, it’s true.
According to a study involving 100 participants with AMD, a 3 mg dose of melatonin, taken daily for 6-24 months, protected the retinas and delayed further damage from AMD.
It may help with heartburn and stomach ulcers
Remember how melatonin is an antioxidant? Well this protective ability also allows it to alleviate heartburn and stomach ulcers.
Yeah, yeah… I know it sounds far fetched, but just hear me out.
According to a 2010 study involving 36 people with gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) — which is just a fancy name for advanced heartburn — melatonin effectively reduced the symptoms of heartburn. And this effect was even stronger when it was combined with omeprazole (a medication used to treat GERD).
It may help combat seasonal depression
Ever experienced winter blues? Yep, that’s just a cool name for seasonal depression and it isn’t an uncommon thing in the US. In fact, research shows that about 20% of adults come down with it at some point.
Interestingly, seasonal depression has been linked with unhealthy changes in light and sleep cycles. And that’s where melatonin comes in!
Researchers now believe that melatonin’s ability to stabilize the sleep cycle can prove effective in the treatment of seasonal depression.
It reduces the symptoms of tinnitus
Tinnitus is medical condition accompanied by a persistent ringing in the ears. Although that may not sound like a big deal when you’re at the train station, but all alone in the middle of the soundless night, it really can drive sleep from you.
Interestingly, research has shown that by taking melatonin, you can successfully decrease the symptoms of tinnitus and finally get some precious sleep.
For instance, in a 2011 study involving over 60 tinnitus patients, it was reported that a 3 mg daily intake of melatonin successfully reduced the symptoms of tinnitus and also improved sleep quality significantly.
How to Make the Most of Melatonin
Okay, listen up — melatonin isn’t a magic sleep pill, so if you want it to work for you, you need to use it under the right conditions. As effective as melatonin supplement is, some people still come out and say it doesn’t work for them.
In many of these cases, it’s usually due to mistakes on their part. So, here are a few tips that will help you obtain maximum benefits from melatonin.
Set and keep a regular bedtime:
Remember how melatonin controls your internal clock? Well, you can help it’s work by maintaining a regular bedtime. This way your internal clock with adjust quickly and you may no longer need melatonin supplements after some time.
Keep the electronics at bay
As stated earlier, light disrupts the production of melatonin and promotes wakefulness. So, to obtain maximum benefits from melatonin, you should stay away from bright light close to bedtime.
Blue light, produced by gadgets like TVs, laptops and phones is particularly guilty of affecting sleep quality, so stay away from it. But if you must use these devices, keep it to mo sooner than two hours before bedtime.
Keep the temperature cool
Temperature is important for sleep. No matter how many tabs of melatonin you take, if you’re sleeping in an excessively warm room, you won’t enjoy your sleep. So, keep the temperature nice and cool.
Establish a bedtime routine
Believe it or not, establishing a bedtime routine can help you to sleep better… even without a sleeping aid.
So create some relaxing pre-sleep activities (like massage, light reading etc.) and do them every night before bed. Soon your body will associate these activities with sleep and once you finish them, you’ll fall right asleep.
Take a shower
Never underestimate the relaxing power of an old-fashioned shower. Research has shown that taking a bath 1-2 hours before bed can improve relaxation and sleep quality.
Do this in addition to your melatonin boost and you might just have the most refreshing sleep of your life yet.
How Much Melatonin should You Take?
When it comes to melatonin dosage, there’s no one-size-fits-all recommendation, it all depends on the individual. Various factors such as age, weight and sex all play a role in determining how much melatonin you’ll need to achieve the desired effect.
But if there’s one thing experts agree on, it’s that you should start off on a lower dose and gradually work your way up to higher doses. According to a study by MIT, a dosage of 0.3 mg, is usually enough to improve sleep quality in adults.
However if this doesn’t seem to help, then you can gradually crank up the dosage up to 5 mg. Just bear in mind that melatonin is a hormone, which means the body needs it small amounts. So, aim at the lowest possible dose at which it works for you.
Taking higher doses, doesn’t make it more effective. In fact, according to the MIT study, not only are higher doses less effective, it can trigger some unwanted side effects.
Wait, what? I thought melatonin had no side effects. Well… not quite. Let’s take a look.
What Happens When You Take Too Much Melatonin?
Okay, let’s get something clear — melatonin is largely considered safe. And contrary to the belief that taking melatonin supplements may reduce your body’s ability to naturally produce the hormone, studies have shown that the opposite is true.
That said, too much of anything — even the good stuff — can be bad. This is certainly true for melatonin. However, melatonin’s side effects are mostly mild and not life threatening. They include:
- Day-time dizziness and grogginess
- Mild tremor
- Low blood pressure
- Stomach cramps
- Temporary feelings of depression
You should also probably note that most melatonin studies have examined its effect in the short term, and it’s still unclear what effects supplementation might have on the long term. So, find your lowest effective dose and go easy on it, okay?
When To Take Melatonin
Alright, listen up — the effectiveness of melatonin isn’t only dependent on the dosage… when you take it matters too. In fact, some experts believe that the time of administration is even more important than how much melatonin you take.
When melatonin is taken as a supplement, it reaches its maximum concentration in the blood after about 30 minutes. So if you’re having trouble sleeping (a case of insomnia), then you’re better off taking it 30 minutes before hitting the bed.
However, if you’re trying to correct your circadian rhythm, as a result of shift work or jet lag, then it’s advisable to take melatonin about 2 hours before your desired bedtime. So if you’d like to sleep by 10 PM, you should take it by 8 PM. Also, don’t forget to maintain a regular bedtime.
Who Shouldn’t Take Melatonin?
Okay listen up — melatonin isn’t for everyone. Although melatonin itself is considered safe, it can interact with other medications to produce undesired effects. So, if you’re in any of the following categories, you’re probably better off staying away from melatonin. Or at the very least, talk to your doctor before taking it.
- Patients currently on a blood thinning medication, antidepressants, antibiotics, sedatives, antihistamines or blood pressure medications.
- Diabetic patients
- People with seizure disorders
- People on immuno-suppressant drugs
- People with bleeding disorders e.g., hemophilia.
Is Melatonin Addictive?
Short answer — no!
Unlike some other sleep medications (like Ambien and Lunesta), melatonin has been proven to be safe and non-addictive. This means there are no withdrawal symptoms when you stop taking it. And that is one of its major perks.
Melatonin for Kids: Does It Work?
According to a 2013 study, about 75% of school-aged kids don’t get sufficient sleep at night. So, it comes as no surprise that parents want to try out sleep aids such as melatonin on their kids.
But does it work? Well, as far as research studies are concerned, yes… it does! Melatonin has been proven effective for children, including those with autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and other neurological conditions.
For instance, in an analysis of 35 studies in autistic children, the researchers reported that melatonin supplements helped the kids to sleep faster and longer. A similar study conducted on kids with neurological conditions also yielded similar results.
Interestingly, these results have also been observed in healthy kids and teens. According to a study which examined the effects of melatonin in children and adolescents with insomnia, over 90% of the participants experienced an improvement in their sleep problems after taking melatonin.
So, does it work for kids? Heck, yeah… it does!
Is Melatonin Safe for Kids?
Okay, so, we’ve established the fact that melatonin works for kids. But is it safe? Well, most research studies have come to the conclusion that melatonin is safe for kids… at least in the short-term.
That said, when it comes to kids, it’s always best to consult your doctor before introducing any new medication. Furthermore, while melatonin is considered safe for kids in the short-term, experts are still unsure of its long-term effects.
So, if your kid has some trouble sleeping, be sure to talk to your doctor first. Once appropriate diagnosis has been made, the doctor can then decide whether or not your child needs melatonin.
The Bottom Line
Melatonin is an amazing sleep aid that doesn’t only help you get a great night’s sleep, but also does your body a world of good… all without any serious side effects.
Just remember to stick to the lowest possible dose that works for you, because with melatonin, less is definitely more. Start off with 0.3-1 mg, but if that doesn’t work, you can crank it up to 3-5 mg.
Also, don’t forget to keep an eye on other medications you’re currently on. And if in doubt, be sure to talk to your doctor before swallowing your first melatonin pill.
Finally, keep calm, relax, create the right atmosphere, and stick to the right dosage. With melatonin, you can finally say goodbye to jet lag and insomnia.
Happy Sleep Day!
Richard is a freelance writer with a unique passion for health and fitness. His work has appeared on Lifehack, Livestrong, ThriveGlobal and other popular publications. When he’s not helping clients grow their businesses, he works out, plays the violin and has fun by all means necessary. You can connect with him on LinkedIn.