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86: Does melatonin make you melt into sleep?

sleep sleep aides Nov 25, 2023
Does melatonin make you melt into sleep?

We've all been there – tossing and turning, unable to fall asleep when we want to. Bedtime is when melatonin, your body's sleep regulator, comes into play. Melatonin is a fascinating hormone and understanding how it works can help you get a better night's rest.

Melatonin is like the conductor of your body's sleep orchestra. It's produced in the pineal gland in the middle of your brain and flows through your body, synchronizing your physiological processes to match the day and night cycle. As darkness falls, melatonin production rises, signaling to your body that it's time to hit the sack.

Melatonin is a light-sensitive hormone, and blue and green hues reduce its production. Bright lights in the evening, especially from portable electronic screens, can slow down your journey to dreamland. During the night, melatonin maintains your deep slumber, so if its levels drop, you can expect some awakenings.  

Melatonin's production is influenced by more than just light. Age and certain medical conditions can reduce the amount of melatonin that your body produces. On the other hand, melatonin supplements can potentially increase the amount of circulating melatonin.  

Why am I hedging with “potentially”?  Well, over-the-counter melatonin supplements are a common go-to for sleep woes. They can be effective for shift work, jet lag, or when your body clock's out of whack. But beware! Not all supplements are created equal. Studies have shown that what's inside the bottle doesn't always match the label.  In fact, the range may be from 0% of the label (i.e. no melatonin at all) to 478% of what is listed on the label.  

As if that weren’t disturbing enough, contaminants like CBD and serotonin have made surprise appearances in melatonin supplements. Since these supplements are considered food products, they often escape rigorous quality checks. 

If you decide to use supplements for sleep, I recommend asking the manufacturer about their quality assurance measures for dose confirmation and pill-to-pill consistency. And it’s always a good idea to choose single-ingredient supplements, so you know what you're getting and how it is affecting you.  

Melatonin is NOT a one-size-fits-all solution. The effect of the melatonin hormone has not been well-studied in children, and so the effects, particularly with long-term usage or high doses (above 1 mg) are not known.  All gummy forms of medication should be kept out of reach. Pregnant or breastfeeding women, those with certain health conditions, and those on anticoagulant meds should consult a doctor before trying melatonin.

Too much melatonin can lead to disrupted sleep patterns, daytime sleepiness, and more. But remember, pinpointing the cause of these issues can be tricky due to variability in supplement quality.

Finally, don't be fooled into thinking more is better. Doses above 5 mg aren't any more effective than lower ones.

Here’s the big picture.  While melatonin may have merits, don't rely solely on it for a good night's sleep. Incorporate solid sleep hygiene practices and healthy daytime behaviors.  This includes limiting or avoiding electronic screens at night, daytime exercise, anti-stress activities, and a relaxing bedtime routine. 

You could consider other supplements like magnesium, L-threanine, Valerian root, chamomile, and lavender, though their effectiveness varies. Prescription sleep medication may be a short-term alternative for promoting sleep but these drugs should always be used with behavioral and psychological support. . . as well as a plan to stop.

Melatonin can be your sleep ally, but it's no silver bullet. Explore it cautiously, prioritize good sleep habits, and remember that sleep supplements, if you elect to use them, are SUPPLEMENTING a solid behavioral sleep strategy.




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