Melatonin is a sleep hormone that your body produces naturally, but it’s also available in supplement form.
And in recent years, more and more people have begun taking melatonin to aid their sleep, with some impressive results.
Melatonin is naturally created by the pineal gland. So, it’s considered safer and easier to tolerate than prescription sleep meds. And in many countries, including the United States, it’s available to use over the counter without needing a prescription.
But as with all medications and supplements, it’s essential to ensure that melatonin is right for you.
So, in this post, I’ll explain everything you need to know about this powerful sleep aid, including how it’s used, the recommended dosage, possible side effects, and more.
If you’re considering trying melatonin to help improve your sleep, this information will help you get started, but it’s still important to speak with your doctor to ensure it’s safe for you.
What is Melatonin, And How Does it Work?
Melatonin plays a crucial role in our circadian rhythms and sleep cycles.
The body naturally begins producing more melatonin in the hours after sunset. The hormone binds with melatonin receptors, which tell our brains it’s time to wind down, relax, and drift off into a peaceful night’s sleep.
And when the sun rises again in the morning, melatonin levels drop, promoting wakefulness and helping us feel energized and ready to face the day.
But when melatonin production is stifled, for example, due to sleep disorders or poor sleep hygiene practices, our brains and bodies have a more challenging time falling asleep and staying asleep. And as a result, we’re more likely to feel dizzy, tired, and irritable throughout the day.
Yet melatonin doesn’t just control our sleep cycles; it also helps regulate our body temperature, blood sugar, blood pressure, body weight, and the release of other essential hormones.
Plus, it has powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects, making this much more than just a simple over-the-counter sleep aid.
Who Can Benefit From Melatonin Supplements?
Melatonin is crucial for helping our bodies relax and prepare for sleep. So, people with lower than-optimal levels will likely struggle to get enough shut-eye each night.
All kinds of factors can affect our body’s ability to produce the correct amount of melatonin, including lifestyle habits such as caffeine and alcohol consumption, shift work, and excessive exposure to blue light in the evening hours.
So, before you reach for the pills, it’s a good idea to re-evaluate your sleep hygiene to ensure you’re not jeopardizing your body’s ability to produce melatonin naturally.
But suppose you already practice healthy sleep habits and are still struggling to catch your full forty winks. In that case, melatonin may help regulate your circadian rhythms, leading to better sleep.
How Can Melatonin Help Me?
Scientific studies suggest that taking melatonin before bed helps you fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer.
Plus, it’s been shown to be particularly beneficial for decreasing sleep latency and increasing the overall time spent asleep in those with physical disorders, such as metabolic syndrome, respiratory disease, and primary sleep disorders.
If you have insomnia, it’s worth trying melatonin supplements before reaching for stronger prescription sleep aids.
A wealth of research supports the effectiveness of melatonin in treating insomnia, and many people have dramatically improved their quality of life by taking this all-important hormone in supplement form.
Melatonin supplements are also a popular remedy for jet lag and for those who work night shifts, as international travel and working during the hours of darkness can disrupt our internal clocks and decrease our body’s natural melatonin production.
Other Benefits of Melatonin
Melatonin is usually prescribed as a sleep aid, but it can also support your health in other ways.
Research shows that melatonin’s powerful antioxidant effects can promote better eye health.
Melatonin has also shown promise in relieving the symptoms of acid reflux and gastroesophageal reflux (GERD) by inhibiting the enzyme responsible for damaging the esophagus lining.
And perhaps most interestingly, melatonin can ease the pain of migraine attacks while lowering the frequency of migraines in the first place.
How to Take Melatonin: Dosage Recommendations
You can buy melatonin supplements over the counter without a prescription in the United States. Still, it’s a good idea to talk to your doctor before taking any kind of supplement, including melatonin, to check if it’s right for you.
Currently, no official dosage guidelines are issued by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, as melatonin is considered a dietary supplement rather than a regulated medicine.
But by examining the latest research, experts are able to recommend a safe and effective dosage range based on factors such as age and body weight.
A typical dose of melatonin for healthy adults is between 1mg and 5mg (10). This is best taken around an hour before bed to feel the most beneficial effects.
Generally speaking, it’s best to use the lowest dosage possible to achieve the desired result. So, it’s recommended that you begin with 1-2 mg and build up the dose until you notice an improvement in your sleep.
If a full 5mg dose is still not giving you the desired results, seek medical advice before increasing the dose further.
Remember, the ideal dose is different for everyone, and many factors will affect how your body processes the supplement. If you’re in any doubt, speak with your doctor.
Who Should Avoid Melatonin?
Melatonin is a relatively well-tolerated health supplement, but it’s only suitable for some. Those who should avoid melatonin include:
1. Pregnant or Breastfeeding Women
There’s very little research on the safety and efficacy of melatonin in pregnant or breastfeeding women. So, most experts recommend avoiding its use unless instructed otherwise by a doctor.
2. People With Dementia
The American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommends that adults with dementia avoid taking melatonin, which has been linked to increased irritability and mood changes.
3. People Taking Certain Medications
Some medications interact with melatonin and increase the risk of side effects, including:
- Blood thinners
- Oral contraceptives and other birth control
- Immunosuppressant medications
- Blood pressure medications
If you are taking prescription medications of any kind, you should speak with your doctor before taking melatonin.
Possible Risks And Side Effects of Melatonin
Melatonin is generally well tolerated in most people, but like any supplement, there are some side effects to be aware of.
The most common is drowsiness upon waking; for some, this can last several hours throughout the morning. Try taking melatonin earlier in the evening or lowering your dose if this happens to you.
Other common side effects include nausea, headaches, and dizziness.
Less common side effects include blood pressure changes, vivid dreams or nightmares, irritability, mood swings, decreased appetite, increased risk of seizures, constipation, and diarrhea.
If you experience these symptoms, stop taking melatonin and speak with your doctor.
Since melatonin may increase drowsiness and lower alertness, you should avoid driving or operating heavy machinery for up to 6 hours after taking it.
And as with any drug or supplement, allergic reactions are possible. If you have a history of allergies, it’s best to talk with your doctor before taking melatonin.
Can Children Take Melatonin?
Melatonin is often recommended for children suffering from disrupted sleep, but it should only be used in people under 18 under the supervision of a doctor or pediatrician.
There is limited data to suggest that melatonin may disrupt the way the hypothalamic-pituitary-gonadal axis functions. This can affect the production and metabolization of other hormones and even alter a child’s natural growth patterns.
So far, the research is inconclusive, but with little known about the long-term side effects of regular melatonin use in children, it’s best to remain cautious. Talk with an experienced healthcare professional before considering melatonin for your child.
Melatonin supplements are a highly effective natural sleep aid, and when used correctly, they can help you to drift off easier and stay asleep for longer.
If you already practice good sleep hygiene and healthy sleep habits but still struggle to get the recommended amount of sleep each night, then melatonin could help.
But as with any medication, always check with your doctor before starting a melatonin regimen to ensure it’s right for you.