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Last Updated November 1, 2023
All of us struggle to sleep from time to time. But what if we told you that your sleep issues can be resolved by taking just one supplement – Melatonin?
Melatonin is a naturally occurring hormone that signals our body when to sleep and wake. If you're having difficulties sleeping, it could be due to reduced melatonin production. Here, we explore the functioning of melatonin in detail and learn how we can take melatonin supplements to solve some of our sleep problems.
Melatonin, also known as the sleep hormone, is a naturally occurring hormone in our body. It is mainly produced by the pineal gland but is also found in the retina, platelets, bone marrow, and gastrointestinal tract. Melatonin plays a crucial role in managing the sleep-wake cycle and circadian rhythm. Darkness stimulates the pineal gland to secret more melatonin, whereas light inhibits its secretion.
When it gets dark, the pineal gland receives a signal from postganglionic fibers, which release noradrenaline and increase the production of cyclic AMP, which is crucial for melatonin production. Melatonin is produced from serotonin through a series of enzymatic reactions. It is then directly released into the bloodstream and put into circulation. Melatonin secretion begins soon after sunset, peaks at midnight, and slowly decreases after that.
However, it is important to note that melatonin on itself doesn't make you sleep. It just serves as a time cue for the body's biological clock, which in turn lets your body know that it's nighttime so that you can relax and sleep. Melatonin also has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, which have other effects on the body.
Melatonin can also be produced in laboratories and is available in supplement form. Taking melatonin supplements can aid your sleep if your body isn't producing enough melatonin.
Normal circulation of melatonin in the body helps keep circadian rhythm and sleep-wake cycle in coordination with our sleep time. However, certain things might affect the production of melatonin in the body. For instance, delayed melatonin production due to blue light exposure can delay the onset of your sleep. Let's look at various factors that can affect our melatonin levels.
The production of melatonin naturally decreases with age. The pineal gland shows age-related degenerative effects; its calcification increases with age. This leads to a disruption in the production of melatonin. Moreover, the suprachiasmatic nucleus(SCN) of the hypothalamus also goes through degeneration with age. The SCN is the body's central pacemaker, which guides the internal clocks and rhythms and helps keep them synchronized. Its degenerative alterations can lead to a change in melatonin levels.
One of the major external cues that lead to melatonin production is the light cue. If you're exposed to bright light at night, it will signal the brain that it's still daytime and affect melatonin production. The extent to which it is affected depends on the intensity of the light and the duration of exposure.
Various plants and plant-based products contain melatonin. Tomatoes, olives, barley, rice, and walnuts are a few with a significant amount of melatonin. Even coffee beans contain melatonin, now that might come off as surprising because coffee is consumed to keep us awake. However, caffeine has both inhibitory and stimulatory mechanisms that affect the melatonin levels. Moreover, folate and vitamin B6 boost the production of serotonin, which is a precursor of melatonin. So, food items containing these two should boost your melatonin production.
The feeling of stress or anxiety leads to the activation of the sympathetic nervous system, which leads to an increase in awareness and difficulties in relaxing, which can interfere with the initiation of melatonin production. Moreover, stress leads to the production of cortisol, which inhibits the production of melatonin.
Certain types of medications can also affect your melatonin levels. For instance, beta blockers inhibit specific receptors, which reduce the release of melatonin. And NSAIDs, like aspirin and other over-the-counter painkilling drugs, can suppress nighttime melatonin levels.
People who work the night or rotating shifts can have disrupted circadian rhythm and lower melatonin levels. An irregular sleep-wake schedule makes it hard for the body to adjust, making it challenging for the brain to release melatonin at the right times.
Various sleep disorders, like circadian rhythm sleep disorders, can significantly affect the sleep-wake cycle, disrupting the natural flow of melatonin. For instance, delayed sleep wake phase disorder consists of delayed sleep onset, which can affect the timing of melatonin release. Conditions like restless leg syndrome and narcolepsy can lead to fragmented sleep, interfering with melatonin regulation and sleep continuity.
Jet lag occurs when your body's internal clock is not in sync with a new time zone. What essentially happens in such a case is that your body is used to releasing melatonin at a particular time. But in a different time zone, your body needs to adjust to the new time of releasing melatonin.
If your body's natural production of melatonin isn't helping you sleep or if it's been thrown off the time, then melatonin supplements can help you better your sleep. While there are over-the-counter melatonin supplements available that you can administer yourself, it's best advised to consult your doctor before taking melatonin supplements, especially if you're going in for long-term usage.
Evidence suggests that melatonin supplements are also helpful with other things like treating seasonal depression, increasing GH levels, and eye health. The health benefits of melatonin are immense, but how much of it you should consume? Melatonin is considered a dietary supplement by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), so there are no official guidelines for the dosage. Therefore, a safe dosage is determined on the basis of age, body weight, and personal sensitivity.
Melatonin supplements can be consumed in pill form, as dissolvable tablets, liquid drops, or even gummies, and come in various dosages ranging from 1 milligram to 10 milligrams. You can take a dose of 0.5mg to 10mg of melatonin per day, but it's best to stick to the instructions on the label. Moreover, starting from a lower dose and increasing as needed is always recommended.
If you're taking melatonin to improve sleep quality, taking the supplement about 30 minutes to 1 hour before your sleep time is recommended. However, if you're taking it to correct your circadian rhythm, taking it 2 to 3 hours before your sleep time is recommended.
For Adults, the typical range of melatonin dosage generally used is 5-10 mg. However, some people require up to 10 mg also. The range may seem too wide, but melatonin has highly individualistic dosage amounts. Adults can start with 1-2 mg and increase it by 1-2 mg every time until they reach the amount of dosage that works best for them.
For children, melatonin should be approached with caution. While it's safe for short-term use, it might cause side effects in long-term use. A dosage of up to 3 mg has been used safely for children. However, it's best to consult your pediatrician and administer it as prescribed.
Melatonin is very important during pregnancy, and its levels vary throughout the stages of pregnancy. The first and second trimesters witness a decrease in melatonin levels; after that, the level of melatonin starts to rise, reaching its peak at full term. The level returns back to normal after delivery.
Melatonin is transferred to the developing fetus and helps with the development of circadian rhythm, nervous system, and endocrine system. Its antioxidant properties also protect the fetus from damage from any oxidative stress.
Even though melatonin is very important during pregnancy, there haven't been enough studies on the consumption of melatonin supplements during pregnancy. Therefore, pregnant or breastfeeding women should avoid taking melatonin due to insufficient evidence.
When taken for short-term (up to 2 years), Melatonin is most likely safe to use. It's also likely to be safe for most adults in long-term use. However, some people might experience dizziness, nausea, headache, or sleepiness during the daytime. Also, it's advised not to operate heavy machinery for 4-5 hours after taking melatonin. Some less common side effects that might appear include confusion or disorientation, stomach cramps, mood swings, and vivid dreams or nightmares.
So yes, melatonin, the natural sleep hormone, serves as a critical regulator of our sleep-wake cycles and circadian rhythms. Various factors can affect the production of melatonin and hinder the natural sleep wake cycle. Melatonin supplements can help with sleep addressing sleep disruptions and enhance sleep quality. However, one should approach it responsibly and carefully consider the dosage. In essence, melatonin offers a promising path to improved sleep, but it should be approached with mindfulness and medical consultation to unlock its full potential in enhancing our well-being.
Melatonin is considered safe for short-term consumption. However, if you're planning on making it a part of your routine and taking it long-term, you should talk to your healthcare provider.
The recommended amount of melatonin for adults is 5-10 mg, and for children, it is 1-3 mg. Taking anything more than 10 mg at a time is not recommended at all. If you feel the need to take more than that, you should consult your doctor before going ahead with anything.
The best time to take melatonin is 30 minutes before sleep if you're taking it to improve sleep quality. Otherwise, if you're taking it to correct your circadian rhythm, you should take it about 2 hours before bedtime.
Melatonin supplements have shown to not only reduce the time required to fall asleep, but also significantly improve the quality of sleep in adults.
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Disclaimer: What is said in this article has been referenced from multiple sources and is intended only for educational and informational purposes. Please note that no content in this article is a substitute for professional advice from a qualified doctor or healthcare provider. Always consult an experienced doctor with any concerns you may have regarding a health condition or treatment, and never disregard any medical suggestions or delay in seeking treatment because of something you read here.