If you’ve had trouble sleeping before, someone you know has undoubtedly recommended melatonin. Melatonin has been a primary sleep aid for those with difficulties getting adequate sleep whether from temporary causes or health-related complications.
We know how melatonin benefits the body by providing restful sleep each night. Sleep is essential to optimal health and wellness, and supplements can help you achieve that goal. But what is melatonin, and how does it deliver the great night’s rest for which it’s so well-known?
What is Melatonin?
Melatonin is a natural hormone produced by the pineal gland to regulate circadian rhythm – your body’s 24-hour internal clock. The hormonal levels respond to light, rising in the evening and falling in the morning.
Research suggests that melatonin not only maintains the sleep-wake cycle but also has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties that aid the immune system and general wellness.
You can also find melatonin supplements over the counter as a short-term sleep-aid. OTC melatonin benefits those who don’t produce enough naturally or who produce enough of the hormone but still experience trouble sleeping by enhancing the levels.
Generally, physicians might recommend supplements for those experiencing occasional sleeping problems, jet lag, night shift schedules, or sleep disorders from blindness.
Nevertheless, the natural production of melatonin can be negatively impacted by a number of lifestyle habits:
- Blue/Artificial light – Blue light from your phone screen and television produces the same effects as sunlight, encouraging wakefulness and shutting down melatonin production, even at night.
- Caffeine – Drinking caffeine throughout the day reduces the amount and quality of sleep by suppressing the production of melatonin.
- High stress – Increased cortisol levels before bed can decrease the secretion of melatonin.
How does it work?
Typically, most people produce enough of this hormone to maintain a regular sleep cycle. As it gets dark outside, your melatonin levels begin to rise, which delivers a calming effect and lowers the internal body temperature to signal bedtime.
Melatonin levels peak around 3 a.m. and swiftly fall after that to encourage wakefulness in the morning.
Taking Melatonin Supplements
When taking supplements, they increase your melatonin levels gradually, and you will begin to feel the effects after about 90 minutes. To fully experience potential melatonin benefits, it's recommended to take melatonin about two hours before you’d like to sleep rather than when you are having trouble falling asleep.
If you anticipate jet lag on an upcoming trip, it’s best to begin taking melatonin a few days before you depart. You will want to take it two hours before what your bedtime will be in your new time zone to get your body prepared.
Contrary to popular belief, a higher dose does not always produce better results. You should consult with your physician to determine the best treatment. However, the most effective servings range from 0.2 mg to 5 mg.
How long can you use it?
Safe use of melatonin supplements has been recorded in the short term for up to one to two months, and even three months when it is working properly. According to WebMD, supplements have been used safely for up to two years.
If you start taking melatonin and don’t see an improvement after a week, then it may not work for you.
Is It Safe?
Melatonin is considered safe in low-dose, short-term usage. However, there are a few potential side effects that can occur from large doses or long-term use, such as headaches, dizziness, nausea, irritability, and sleepiness or grogginess while waking up.
If you experience these effects, you may be taking too high a dose. Try to take a smaller supplement earlier in the evening to wake up feeling refreshed.
5 Ways to Naturally Increase Melatonin Production
The secretion of melatonin is drastically affected by various external factors, so small adjustments and additions to your daily routine may boost your hormone levels at night.
1. Keep it dark at night
Unplug from electronics to encourage increased melatonin levels before bed. Instead, read your favorite book or just dim the lights and meditate for a bit.
2. Take in more sunlight during the day
Exposing yourself to natural light during the day helps to reset your internal clock. Increased serotonin in the day influences your body to make melatonin earlier in the evening.
3. Hit the gym
Exercise not only decreases stress levels, but it also supports melatonin production. However, working out too late at night may throw your sleep cycle off and push your bedtime back.
4. Stop and smell the lavender
The essential oil, lavender, which can be found in many health and wellness products, encourages calmness and relaxation while naturally enhancing melatonin.
5. Eat Melatonin-rich foods
Some fruits, vegetables and grains naturally contain melatonin, including asparagus, grapes, broccoli, rice, and some nuts and seeds. Add a few servings to each day for healthy sleep.
For other ways to naturally enhance your sleep quality, read our blog: 10 Ways to Sleep Better at Night.
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Mayo Clinic - Melatonin
National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health – Melatonin: What You Need to Know