Melatonin is often called the sleep hormone. It is a central part of the body’s sleep-wake cycle. The production of melatonin increases as evening darkens, thereby promoting healthy sleep and aiding in orienting your body’s circadian rhythm.
Your body naturally produces melatonin. However, researchers and the public have progressively taken an interest in using external sources of melatonin to address sleep difficulties. You can purchase melatonin as a dietary supplement in the United States. In a 2012 survey by the National Institutes of Health discovered that it was one of the most commonly used supplements among adults and children.
A variety of studies show that melatonin can improve sleep in certain instances, but it isn’t for everyone. It’s crucial that you be aware of and carefully consider melatonin’s possible benefits and potential downsides. Furthermore, you should be aware of issues related to the dosage and quality of melatonin supplements.
What is Melatonin?
Melatonin is a natural hormone created by the pineal gland in the brain and then secreted into your bloodstream. As it gets dark out, the pineal gland is prompted to start producing melatonin. Conversely, light causes the production of melatonin to stop. In doing so, melatonin aids in regulating your body’s circadian rhythm and synchronizes your sleep-wake cycle with night and day. As a result, melatonin facilitates your transition to sleep and promotes a consistent and quality rest.
Melatonin created inside the body is known as endogenous melatonin. However, it can also be produced externally. Exogenous melatonin is usually made synthetically in a laboratory as a dietary supplement. It usually sells as a capsule, a pill, a liquid, or a chewable.
Can Melatonin Improve Sleep?
Melatonin produced by your body is essential to a proper night’s sleep. Therefore, it’s natural to consider whether people who have sleep issues should use melatonin supplements. Research has demonstrated that in certain situations, melatonin supplements may be useful for both adults and children. Let’s explore those situations.
- Melatonin for adults
When it comes to melatonin supplements for adults, research has shown that the strongest potential benefits are for people who have sleeping issues related to jet lag and Delayed Sleep-Wake Phase Disorder (DSWPD).
DSWPD is a circadian rhythm disorder where your sleep schedule is shifted later, often by a few hours. When you have this “night owl” schedule, you may find it challenging to get enough sleep, especially if you have obligations like work or school that force you to wake up early in the morning. Fortunately, studies indicate that taking low doses of melatonin before the desired bedtime will help people with DSWPD adjust their sleep cycle.
Jet lag happens when you travel rapidly across multiple time zones, such as on an intercontinental flight. In doing so, your body’s internal clock becomes misaligned with your local day-night cycle. Luckily, small research studies have provided evidence that melatonin supplements can help to readjust the sleep-wake cycle and enhance sleep in people with jet lag.
If you’re a shift worker, someone who works during the night, you may struggle with sleep difficulties related to a disordered circadian rhythm. Studies performed on the relation of melatonin and shift work have offered only inconclusive results. However, some people have reported a benefit.
Furthermore, there is a debate about whether melatonin benefits otherwise healthy adults who have insomnia. Insomnia is a persistent condition that is characterized by trouble falling asleep or staying asleep. The current research is not conclusive on this point. Some experts who have reviewed the existing research have found evidence favoring melatonin. However, organizations like the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) have decided that there isn’t enough scientific support to conclude that melatonin reduces insomnia.
- Melatonin in children
Melatonin may be helpful for children with sleeping difficulties; however, experts usually agree that more research is necessary to understand its optimal use in young people. For instance, several research studies have shown that melatonin may help children with sleep problems fall asleep faster. These studies also suggest that melatonin may improve a child’s total sleep time. Furthermore, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has said that melatonin may help children adjust to a healthier sleep schedule and develop good sleep habits in the short term.
There is evidence from small studies that melatonin may be especially beneficial for children with epilepsy and Autism Spectrum Disorder conditions.
However, all the existing scientific research agrees that additional research is necessary to clarify central issues regarding the use of melatonin in children, including the optimal dosage and duration of use as well as the risks of long-term side effects. For this reason, the AAP recommends that parents work closely with their child’s doctor before they give them any melatonin supplements.
What are the Side Effects of Melatonin?
In the short term, melatonin use has relatively few side effects and can be tolerated well by most people who take it. The side effects that people tend to report include daytime drowsiness, dizziness, and headaches. However, only a very small percentage of people who take melatonin experience these effects.
For children, the reported side effects of using melatonin in the short term are similar to that for adults. However, some children may experience an increased risk of bedwetting or increased agitation when using melatonin.
For both adults and children, you must speak with a doctor before starting a melatonin regimen. This will help to prevent potential allergic reactions or harmful interactions with your current medications. In particular, if you take anti-epilepsy or blood-thining medications, you should ask your physician about potential drug interactions.
You should also note that the American Academy of Sleep Medicine advises against melatonin use in people suffering from dementia. Additionally, there isn’t a lot of research about melatonin’s effect on pregnant or breastfeeding women, so it’s best to avoid it if you are pregnant or breastfeeding.
Furthermore, there isn’t much information on the long-term effects of melatonin supplements in children or adults. Consequently, there is some apprehension that melatonin’s sustained use might affect the onset of puberty in children. However, so far, research is inconclusive. Therefore, since the long-term effects are unknown, you are advised to maintain an ongoing conversation with your doctor about using melatonin and the quality of your sleep, and your overall health.
What is the Appropriate Dosage of Melatonin?
There isn’t a general agreement about the optimal dosage of melatonin. However, most experts recommend against taking extremely high dosages. A typical dose of melatonin supplement is between one and three milligrams. However, the appropriate dosage for you depends on specific factors such as your age and specific sleeping problems.
In some cases, people may experience daytime sleepiness when using melatonin to help their sleep. If this happens to you, it may be because your dosage is too high. Therefore, it’s best to start with the lowest dose possible and work your way up gradually under your doctor’s supervision.
You should note that the AAP doesn’t recommend dosages above three to six mg for children. They also state that most young people respond best to small doses of .5 to one mg. Additionally, there have been some studies that have discovered that small amounts of melatonin supplements in adults are also beneficial.
It’s important to be cautious about how much melatonin you add to your body. Oral supplements of melatonin can create higher levels of melatonin than is normally produced in your body. This can throw things seriously out of whack. For instance, dosages between one and 10 mg can increase the melatonin in your body from three to sixty times the normal levels.
How to Select a Melatonin Supplement
In the U.S., melatonin is sold as a dietary supplement and not as a medication. This is a crucial distinction because it means that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) doesn’t closely regulate it.
There are various brands with varying formulations and dosages of melatonin, and these are available over-the-counter in drug stores and groceries. However, there are essential quality differences to be aware of. A study that looked at 31 melatonin supplements discovered significant discrepancies in dosage information. According to this study, 71% of the tested products were not within 10% of their listed dosage. This is scary because an incorrect melatonin dose has significant consequences, including a greater risk of side effects and reduced supplement effectiveness.
You should also be aware that some products that say they contain only melatonin also contain impurities and other compounds such as serotonin which can pose significant health risks. Furthermore, manufacturers sometimes combine melatonin with magnesium, valerian root, and other natural sleep aids. This could further affect the accuracy of dosages and labeling.
Therefore, if you’re buying melatonin supplements, you need to keep in mind that labels such as “natural,” “certified,” and “verified” are not regulated or standardized. At the same time, while it’s not a guarantee of safety if the supplement is certified by organizations like U.S. Pharmacopeia (USP, ConsumerLab.com, or the NSF International Dietary Supplement program, it means that the products have been tested for contaminants or mislabeling.
Melatonin is a sleep hormone that performs a central role in the body’s sleep-wake cycle. When it gets dark at night, the production of melatonin increases. When it gets light out, production decreases. As a result, you get sleepy at night and become wakeful when the day begins. Although melatonin occurs naturally in the body, studies have found that melatonin supplements can improve sleep in certain cases. However, it’s not for everyone.
In adults, melatonin is useful in regulating the circadian rhythm of people who have sleep problems related to Delayed Sleep-Wake Phase Disorder (DSWPD) and jet lag. People who suffer from DSWPD are usually shift workers. Studies of melatonin in shift workers are inconclusive about the effect melatonin has on realigning their circadian rhythm, but some people do find it beneficial. Evidence from small research studies shows that melatonin supplements help reset the sleep-wake cycle for jet lag.
Melatonin in children has not been conclusively shown to be beneficial. However, the AAP has said that they believe that melatonin could be beneficial in the short term by helping children to adjust to a healthier sleep schedule and establish good sleep habits.
There are some side effects of taking melatonin, including daytime sluggishness, dizziness, and headaches. Furthermore, melatonin may react negatively with some medications and may cause an allergic reaction in some people. For that reason, you should consult a doctor before starting a regimen of melatonin supplements. Additionally, it’s important to note that the FDA does not closely regulate melatonin, so you need to be cautious when buying melatonin as the dosage may be mislabeled or there could be other ingredients in the capsules.