If you have trouble falling asleep or you struggle with insomnia, you may have considered taking melatonin for sleep.
Considered a relatively natural solution for common sleep problems, melatonin works with your body to help regulate your circadian rhythm, and give you the rest you need.
Although the number one strategy medical professionals recommend for those suffering with sleep issues involves improving sleep hygiene, even people who follow a regular schedule, abstain from stimulants, and invest in comfortable bedding can still end up sleep deprived.
When you don’t get enough sleep, it’s not just your mood that suffers, but your overall health as well. Consistent sleep deprivation can lead to a higher risk of certain diseases, increased blood pressure, and damaged immunity. Individuals who may not be well-suited to taking prescription sleep medications often use melatonin as a safe way to reset their body clock.
Melatonin is considered to be one of the safest alternatives to sleeping pills out there. However, melatonin may not be right for everyone. It’s important to understand how this substance works, and the risks associated with it before you begin using melatonin for sleep.
Melatonin for Sleep: What Exactly is Melatonin?
Melatonin is a hormone naturally produced by the human body, primarily in the pineal gland. It’s commonly referred to as the ‘sleep hormone’ because it assists with the management and regulation of the circadian rhythm, also known as your natural body clock.
However, melatonin also plays a role in various other processes within the human body, including how your metabolism works.
Unlike other sleeping pills, melatonin won’t necessarily sedate you, or instantly put you to sleep. Supplements and pills work alongside the natural melatonin in your body to inform your brain that it’s time to rest. Although studies are still ongoing into the effects of melatonin on the human body, scientists believe the substance encourages sleep in a range of ways.
Melatonin can regulate body temperature, blood pressure, and the hormones that tell your body when it's time to relax. The substance can also bind with receptors in the brain to reduce nerve activity and dopamine (a natural brain chemical that often increases alertness).
Though your body is able to produce melatonin naturally, many people don’t produce enough of this hormone to maintain a consistent sleeping cycle. The levels of melatonin in your body can be influenced by everything from alcohol and caffeine consumption to certain medications and circadian rhythm disorders such as delayed sleep phase syndrome.
The Benefits of Using Melatonin for Sleep
Because melatonin is produced naturally by the human body, it’s often considered a relatively safe solution for those who have trouble falling asleep. Furthermore, studies have shown that melatonin supplements can be effective at reducing the time it takes for us to fall asleep, while increasing overall sleep time.
Melatonin can also be particularly beneficial for people with circadian rhythm disorders, or those struggling to fall asleep as a result of their lifestyle. For instance, if you work graveyard shifts at night, your body may benefit from melatonin to help you reset your circadian rhythm.
If you experience jet lag as a result of travelling through different time zones, melatonin can assist in syncing your internal clock with the environment you end up in.
Melatonin is also generally less likely to cause significant side effects than other chemical sleep aids, making it a safe choice for those who want to avoid prescription medication. Plus, this substance can also have a positive impact on other aspects of health, such as:
· Eye health: Melatonin is both a hormone and an antioxidant. Its effects can help to reduce your risk of various eye-related diseases, such as macular degeneration.
· Acid reflux: Some studies suggest melatonin may be effective at reducing the side effects of acid reflux and GERD, as it helps to protect the lining of your esophagus against inflammatory and acidic substances.
· Migraines: While there are many prescription drugs that can assist in the treatment of migraines, melatonin could be another option for some patients. It can help to inhibit pain sensations and reduce nerve sensitivity in the brain.
· Tinnitus: Taking melatonin for sleep can also reduce the symptoms of tinnitus, a condition which causes a ringing sensation in your ears. If you struggle to sleep because of tinnitus, melatonin could help to eliminate the symptoms.
· Diabetes: Some studies indicate low levels of melatonin may be a risk factor for diabetes and diabetes-related metabolic disorders. Because of this, increasing your levels of melatonin could help protect you against chronic disease.
The Downsides of Taking Melatonin for Sleep
While using melatonin for sleep can be extremely beneficial in some cases, it won’t be the right solution for everyone. Exposing your body to regular doses of melatonin, particularly in high quantities will increase your risk of certain side effects, including nausea, and dizziness.
Additionally, while most experts agree it’s safe to take melatonin for short periods (usually up to 3 months), we don’t have a lot of studies available to help prove whether this substance is safe to take long term. Regularly taking melatonin could potentially make it harder for your body to produce the substance naturally, or reduce the efficacy of natural melatonin in the future.
Some people may even find they struggle to sleep at all without taking a melatonin supplement, because their bodies start to depend on the extra hormone supplementation. Melatonin, similar to many supplements, can also interfere with other medications, such as blood thinners, antidepressants, and prescription medications for certain health conditions.
Your habits can also influence the impact melatonin has on your sleep. While low levels of melatonin are sometimes associated with an increased risk of alcohol abuse disorder, frequent alcohol intake can harm your circadian rhythm, and mean you need to take more melatonin to achieve the same effects. This could further increase your risk of side effects.
How Safe is Melatonin for Sleep?
In general, using melatonin for sleep is considered to be a relatively safe strategy. It’s not considered to be an addictive substance, and it’s non-toxic. However, it can cause some minor side effects, such as fatigue, nausea, headaches, and dizziness.
Your age, sleep patterns, and current health may also influence whether melatonin is safe for you to use. For instance, during pregnancy, your natural melatonin levels will change. As you progress through your final trimester, you’ll be producing more melatonin on average.
Some of this melatonin is transferred to your baby, contributing to the development of the child’s circadian rhythm. However, this hormone’s impact on pregnancy hasn’t been fully researched, so most medical professionals will recommend against taking supplements.
For children and babies, melatonin supplements may not be recommended either. Taking melatonin when you’re breastfeeding or nursing could increase the amount of the hormone that’s transferred to your infant child, which may have a negative impact on the development of their circadian rhythm.
As children get older, they may be able to use very small doses of melatonin, with regular monitoring. One study found that children receiving melatonin as a short-term treatment for sleep disorders fell asleep faster and remained asleep for longer than children using a placebo.
However, research into the impact of melatonin supplementation on children is limited, which often means doctors will be cautious about prescribing high doses to younger children.
Typically, melatonin is considered safest, and most effective for adults, and seniors. As you age, your natural levels of melatonin will naturally decline, which is one of the reasons many older adults have trouble with sleep. Research into the impact of melatonin on adults and seniors indicates the substance could be beneficial for improving sleep quality.
Studies even show that the antioxidant effects of melatonin could be more beneficial for older adults, who tend to experience a higher number of chronic inflammatory conditions.
However, every person is different. While melatonin for sleep is generally well-tolerated by most adults, it can increase feelings of daytime drowsiness and fatigue.
Are Your Genetics to Blame for Your Trouble Sleeping?
Various sleep issues and sleep disorders, including the general issue of having trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, could be genetic.
CircleDNA is an at-home DNA test that provides you with over 500 reports about yourself, including your genetic sleep traits, if you’re curious to find out if your trouble sleeping is due to your DNA.
Should You Take Melatonin for Sleep?
Ultimately, taking melatonin for sleep could be a relatively safe and low-risk way to improve your sleeping habits and reset your circadian rhythm. Melatonin is a natural substance, produced by the human body, so it’s typically well tolerated by most adults. However, the exact way your body responds to melatonin can vary depending on a number of factors.
If you’re considering using melatonin, it’s usually a good idea to speak to your family doctor and make sure the substance won’t have any negative impact on your health, or interact with your current medications.
It’s also crucial to remember that melatonin is intended as a short-term solution for sleep issues. If you’re struggling with poor sleep, it might be worth looking at your CircleDNA report, to learn more about the lifestyle changes you can make to improve your sleep hygiene.
- NCBI: Melatonin
- NCBI: Exogenous melatonin as a treatment for secondary sleep disorders: A systematic review and meta-analysis
- NCBI: Melatonin in Prevention of the Sequence from Reflux Esophagitis to Barrett’s Esophagus and Esophageal Adenocarcinoma: Experimental and Clinical Perspectives
- NCBI: Role of melatonin on diabetes-related metabolic disorders
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3158876/#:~:text=Melatonin may influence diabetes and,possess only low-antioxidative capacity.
- NCBI: Alterations in circadian rhythms following alcohol use: A systematic review
- NCBI: Efficacy and safety of melatonin for sleep onset insomnia in children and adolescents: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials
- NCBI: Anti-inflammatory effects of melatonin: A systematic review and meta-analysis of clinical trials