Could melatonin be the missing ingredient for good sleep?
Sometimes even when you are doing everything else right, you still may be missing out on good, quality sleep. In these cases, melatonin may help you find some sleep.
With that said, it is important to actually be sure everything else is right before moving on to supplements like melatonin.
So to start with, you want to be sure you have the right sleep hardware – a quality mattress and pillow. If you have a good mattress and pillow meant for your sleep type, the next thing to investigate are your sleep habits and lifestyle.
Yet even when your habits are in order and you have a good sleep schedule set, a good night’s rest may still escape you. In these cases, it may be time to call on sleepy-time herbs and supplements such as melatonin.
What is melatonin and how can it help you sleep?
Melatonin is a natural hormone in the body. Hormones are special cells in the body that carry messages between the body and brain or stimulate the organs to do their jobs.
The main job of melatonin is to help remind the body that it is night time. Melatonin is created in the pineal gland, which is a tiny gland located in the middle of the brain. The gland is not active during the day, but between sunset and sunrise the gland starts to pump out melatonin. Sleep disorders may be a sign that the gland is not working correctly.
Normally, the body naturally produces more melatonin in darkness, as this is a signal for the body to get ready for sleep.
Light exposure reduces how much melatonin is in the body. This is good during the day, as it helps us to be more alert and handle the tasks we need to. However, in the modern world we are regularly exposed to a lot of light, even at night.
While this means we can work longer hours and don’t have to cook dinner by candlelight, it also means our brains stay more active during the night. This reduces the amount of melatonin in the brain, which may make it difficult for a person to fall asleep or stay asleep.
Some people who have trouble sleeping, staying asleep, or deal with bouts of insomnia have lower levels of melatonin. If this sounds like you, a melatonin supplement may be something to ask your doctor about.
How to use melatonin
The FDA doesn’t regulate supplements like melatonin, which can make dosages a bit different in each case. Working with a doctor, most people do fine by following the dosage recommendations on their individual melatonin supplement.
Tell your doctor if there are any side effects from using melatonin. They may want to lower how much you take. It is also important to talk to a doctor before using melatonin as it may interfere with some drugs.
You also have to know when to take melatonin. As it is mainly a night time chemical in the brain, most people want to avoid taking it during the day. Curiously though, some people may actually find more success taking it right in the morning. In any case, the timing of melatonin is very important.
For most people who have trouble falling asleep, you want to take melatonin 30 minutes before you fall asleep. Note this is not 30 minutes before you lay in bed to read a book, but 30 minutes before actually falling asleep. This is because melatonin enters the bloodstream pretty quickly, and most of it is in the bloodstream in about 30 minutes.
In rare cases, people may actually wake up very early in the morning and feel wide awake. These people may actually benefit from taking melatonin right when they wake up.
For instance, for a person who usually wakes up at 7 am but now wakes up every day at 4 am, they would take the melatonin right as they wake up at 4 am. This may help them get back to sleep, or may help reset their body’s internal clock and keep them from waking up so early the next day.
Are there any side effects?
Melatonin is a natural hormone in the brain. In theory, this means it should cause less side effects than many other supplements.
There are some possible side effects however. Some people taking melatonin feel tired during the day. This may be due to taking too much of the hormone. If too much of it stays in the bloodstream after the person wakes up, it may make them feel tired or sluggish throughout the day.
Other side effects may include issues like:
Is melatonin safe for everyone?
For the most part, melatonin is safe for adults and children to use to help them sleep. With that said, anyone who wants to take melatonin should talk to their doctor beforehand. They may help you find a dosage and may have more healthy sleep tips as well.
Some people may want to avoid melatonin. For instance, there is not much research about pregnant women who use melatonin, so it may be safer to just avoid it.
What else could be the problem?
Sometimes melatonin may not be enough to solve your sleep issues. There are a number of other things that could be making it hard for you to sleep, such as:
- Sleep apnea, which is when your breathing gets interrupted during sleep
- Other sleep disorders such as insomnia
- An uncomfortable mattress that causes you to toss and turn
- A pillow that puts too much pressure on your head or neck
- Snoring from you or a partner
- Pets that move on the bed and disturb your sleep
Sleep is a bit of a mysterious science here, as there are a number of other things that could be underneath your difficulty to sleep. In each case, it is best to work with a doctor to find the solution.
Talk to a doctor if you think melatonin is a supplement that may help you. It is important to understand that melatonin is a quick fix more than a permanent solution. You can use the supplement to retrain your brain to get used to your new healthy sleep habits, but in the end making healthy long-term changes are more important.
It's also important to recognize any other problems. For instance, melatonin may help you fall asleep, but if you have a lumpy, uncomfortable mattress, you may still wake up during the night or toss and turn. A comfortable, supportive mattress should always be a high priority when it comes to your sleep.
With this said, it is easy to see that melatonin is no magic bullet. However, it may help some people give their system a healthy restart and get on the right track towards a proper sleep schedule.