Can Melatonin Solve Your Sleep Problem?
If you have ever experienced insomnia, you know the agony of trying to fall asleep when your body simply will not cooperate.
It is a common problem; an estimated 10 percent of people living in Western society are diagnosed with a significant sleep disorder and another 25 percent experience problems most days with sleeping or feeling tired during the day.
There are a number of hormones in the body that influence sleep—but only one carries the nickname “the sleep hormone.” That’s melatonin
Melatonin is central to sleep, to our daily cycles of rest and activity, and to the regulation of the body’s bio rhythms. Melatonin plays an essential role in keeping our bodies functioning on our best bio time. This, in turn, has broad effects on our overall health.
In recent years, melatonin has become a popular solution. The hormone is naturally produced by the body to regulate the circadian rhythm, including controlling the sleep-wake cycle (our bodies make melatonin when it’s time to fall asleep, and stop producing it when it’s time to wake up in the morning).
In the United States and Canada, melatonin is sold over-the-counter as a dietary supplement for sleep.
What is Melatonin?
Melatonin is a hormone the body produces naturally. Natural melatonin is produced primarily by the pineal gland in the brain.
Melatonin has a daily bio rhythm—levels rise and fall throughout the day and night, reaching their highest levels in the evening and falling to their lowest levels in the morning.
This daily melatonin bio rhythm is strongly tied to the 24-hour cycle of light and dark. This is a key reason why nighttime light exposure can be so detrimental to sleep and to health.
Best Dietary Source of Melatonin
Lately, there’s been increasing scientific attention to the relationship of melatonin to diet.
Cherries are known to be naturally high in melatonin.
A recent study looked at whether drinking tart cherry juice would improve melatonin levels and sleep.
Among the tart cherry juice drinkers, melatonin levels and serotonin levels rose significantly.
This group also experienced significant improvements to their sleep—they slept more, and improved their sleep efficiency.
Here are some popular examples:
Supplemental melatonin is produced synthetically, and is most often used in pill form.
Here’s some important information to know, when considering using a melatonin supplement:
A recent scientific investigation found that the actual melatonin content found in many supplements on the market may vary significantly from what product labels claim.
Scientists at Ontario’s University of Guelph found that in more than 71 percent of melatonin supplements, the amount of melatonin was more than 10 percent different from what the product label indicated.
Some products contained as much as 83 percent less melatonin, while other products contained as much as 478 percent more melatonin.
That means a great many consumers aren’t taking what they think they are when they use a melatonin supplement (and there are many choices on the market).
Before you begin using melatonin, be sure to do your research and get your melatonin from a trusted source.
I like Pure Encapsulations Melatonin because they come in a 0.5 mg capsule, which allows flexible dose adjustments (most other formulas come in 1mg to 3mg per capsule). They also have strict manufacturing and testing standards, so you know exactly what you’re getting.
How Does Melatonin Work?
Melatonin is not a sedative. Instead, it works to promote sleep by helping to regulate the body’s bio clock and sleep-wake cycles.
Melatonin production in the body is triggered by darkness and suppressed by light.
The brain receives light and dark cues through the retina of the eye, which are then communicated along the optic nerve to the brain’s master bio clock, the superchiasmatic nucleus, or SCN. This bio clock controls the flow of melatonin and other hormones—as well as a vast array of other physiological processes.
When it’s dark, the SCN gives the go-ahead to the pineal gland to ramp up its production of melatonin. Typically, melatonin levels begin to rise significantly around 9 p.m., and peak during the overnight hours before falling to very low levels shortly before dawn.
Melatonin stays low throughout the daylight hours, as other hormones rise to help maintain focus, energy, and alertness throughout the day.
The length of melatonin production shifts throughout the year, with shorter daily periods of melatonin production in the summer when days are longer, and longer periods in the winter, when nights are longer.
Disruptions in natural melatonin levels can go hand-in-hand with sleep problems.
Benefits of Melatonin
Melatonin and Healthy Sleep
Recent scientific research shows that melatonin may help to
- strengthen and improve sleep-wake cycles, making it possible to adhere to more healthful sleep patterns and making it easier to sleep on a regular schedule.
- shorten the time it takes to fall asleep, and increase overall sleep amounts.
- improve the quality of sleep and reduce daytime sleepiness and fatigue.
- increases REM sleep
Scientific research published in Medscape General Medicine shows that specific sleep problems which may benefit from supplemental melatonin include:
• Sleep problems associated with shift work
• Sleep problems associated with other medical conditions, such as high blood pressure, and ADHD
• Sleep problems associated with menopause
• Restless leg syndrome
• Jet lag
• Sleep problems in children with autism and other developmental disorders
• Reduced REM sleep
• Circadian rhythm disorders in the blind
The study concluded that:
Evidence suggests a role of melatonin with the possibilities of beneficial effects in Alzheimer’s disease; Parkinsonism; and cardiovascular, gastrointestinal, and renal disorders.
The most impressive evidence of melatonin’s efficacy for sleep comes from a 2017 review published in the journal Sleep Medicine Review.
The analysis combined the evidence from 12 randomized and controlled trials that looked at how well supplemental melatonin works to treat primary sleep disorder in adults, and concluded that:
There is convincing evidence that melatonin is effective in helping people fall asleep faster and helped blind people regulate their sleep patterns.
… And when you sleep better, it can help improve your mood, daytime performance, energy levels and your overall health, including immune function, and regulation of metabolism, digestion, and appetite.
Melatonin and Brain Health
In recent years, we’ve learned a lot about the power of melatonin as an antioxidant and about its impact on healthy brain function.
Increasingly, melatonin is considered able to play an important role in protecting against cognitive impairment and neurodegenerative disease that come about from age and also from injury.
As an antioxidant, melatonin may work to protect against cell damage. Oxidative damage to brain cells is believed to be a prime factor in age-related cognitive problems and neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease and others.
Melatonin functions as a powerful antioxidant in the brain—but its antioxidant capabilities are not limited to the brain. As an antioxidant, supplemental melatonin appears to have protective effects over the cardiovascular system and other physiological systems as well.
Melatonin and Blood Pressure
Results of a recent study suggest that melatonin supplements may have a beneficial effect on blood pressure.
The study, published in a rapid-access issue of Hypertension, showed that taking melatonin at bedtime for three weeks lowered blood pressure among 16 men with untreated hypertension.
Melatonin and Cancer Therapy
One exciting area of study for melatonin involves its potential in treating some forms of cancer.
According to research, melatonin may also be effective in treating the side effects of other cancer treatments, including chemotherapy.
A study published in Anticancer Research concluded that there is evidence that:
Melatonin … in conjunction with chemoradiotherapy and/or supportive care in cancer patients with advanced solid tumors, has been associated with improved outcomes of tumor regression and survival. Moreover, chemotherapy has been shown to be better tolerated in patients treated with melatonin.
Melatonin and Autism Spectrum Disorders
Many children and adults with autism spectrum disorder, or ASD, have trouble sleeping. Scientific research has found that people with autism spectrum disorders may have abnormalities to their natural melatonin levels.
Research suggests people with ASD may have lower concentrations of nighttime melatonin. Some studies have also found correlations between abnormal melatonin levels and the severity of ASD symptoms.
Supplemental melatonin may be effective at improving sleep quality and sleep quantity in people with ASD, and also may help improve daytime behavior.
Other Possible Uses for Melatonin
Our understanding of melatonin is expanding rapidly, as scientists continue to study how the hormone works in the body, how it contributes to health and disease protection, and how melatonin may be used as a therapeutic treatment.
The effectiveness of melatonin is being investigated for several other medical conditions, including:
• Age-related macular degeneration
• Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS)
• GERD (Acid Reflux)
• Irritable bowel syndrome
• Menopause symptoms
• Metabolic syndrome
• Migraine and other types of headache
Melatonin Reduces Anxiety
There is research that suggests melatonin helps reduce anxiety in patients who are about to have surgery and may be as effective as standard treatment with midazolam (a drug used in hospitals for pre-operative sedation and anxiety reduction)
What Does the Research Show?
- A randomized trial involving 80 children undergoing surgery found that melatonin was as effective as midazolam in reducing children’s anxiety in both preoperative room and at induction of anesthesia.
- A Cochrane review of 12 studies involving 774 participants found that melatonin compared to placebo, given as premedication, reduced preoperative anxiety (measured 50 to 100 minutes after administration) and may reduce postoperative anxiety (6 hours after surgery). The reviewers also found that melatonin may be equally as effective as standard treatment with midazolam in reducing preoperative anxiety.
So if anxiety is what’s keeping you awake, melatonin may be a great first-line treatment to try.
The following doses are based on amounts that have been investigated in scientific studies.
In general, for sleep problems it is recommended that users begin with the smallest suggested dose, and gradually increase until it has an effect.
That’s why I recommend you find a melatonin supplement which comes in a small individual dose, such as Pure Encapsulations (0.5 mg/capsule).
For regulation of sleep-wake cycles: 0.3mg to 5 mg
For insomnia: 2-3 mg; in some research, higher doses have been used for short-term use
For jet lag: 0.5 mg to 8 mg, starting upon day of arrival at destination
For sleep-wake cycle disruptions: 2mg to 12mg
For delayed sleep phase syndrome: 3-5mg
For sleep and sleep-wake cycle disruptions in the blind: 0.5mg to 5 mg
The half life of melatonin is between 20-50 minutes. Half-life refers to the amount of time it takes for a supplement or medication to reduce its concentration by 50 percent once in the body.
Possible Side Effects
Generally, melatonin is well tolerated by healthy adults. There are possible side effects of from melatonin, including headaches, daytime sleepiness, dizziness, stomach irritation or cramping, irritability and short-term depression.
Because of the potential for dizziness and sleepiness, people it is recommended that people not drive within five hours of taking melatonin.
People with the following conditions should consult with a physician before beginning to use a melatonin supplement:
• Pregnancy, and women who are breast feeding (It is recommended that women who are pregnant or breast feeding not use melatonin.)
• Bleeding disorders
• High blood pressure
• Seizure disorders
• Transplant recipients
Interaction effects may include increasing or decreasing the amount of melatonin in the body, interfering with the effectiveness of the medications or supplements, and interfering with the condition that is being treated by the medication or supplement.
This is a list of commonly used medications and supplements that have scientifically identified interactions with melatonin. People who take these or any other medications and supplements should consult with a physician before beginning to use a melatonin supplement:
• Anticonvulsant and other seizure-related medications
• Antidepressant medications
• Antipsychotic medications
• Anticoagulant medications
• Contraceptive medications
• Diabetes medications
• High blood pressure medications
• Immunosuppressant medications
• Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAID) medications
• Sedative medications
• Medications that are altered or broken down by the liver
Interactions With Other Supplements
- Vitamin B 12
Supplements that target high blood pressure (andrographis, casein peptides, cat’s claw, coenzyme Q-10, fish oil, L-arginine, lyceum, stinging nettle, theanine, and others)
Supplements that may lower seizure threshold (butanediol, cedar leaf, Chinese club moss, EDTA, folic acid, GBL, GHB, glutamine, huperzine A, hydrazine sulfate, hyssop oil, juniper, L-carnitine, rosemary, sage, wormwood and others)
Supplements that may reduce blood clotting (angelica, clove, danshen, garlic, ginger, ginkgo, Panax ginseng, red clover, will and others)
Supplements that may function as sedatives (5-HTP, calamus, California poppy, catnip, hops, Jamaican dogwood, kava, St. John’s wort, skullcap, valerian, yerba mansa and others)
Melatonin is one of the most important hormones in the body, essential to sleep and to overall health, but this “sleep hormone” has a role in a great deal more than sleep—and may prove to be an increasingly versatile therapy to fight aging and disease.
If you’re struggling with sleep issues, try a melatonin supplement; on the whole, there is solid evidence that melatonin can help people to fall asleep and to regulate their internal body clocks. It also has an excellent safety profile, and it’s inexpensive.
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