What Is Melatonin, How Does It Work, Is It Safer Than Sleeping Pills?
If you’ve ever had trouble sleeping you might have heard of something called Melatonin.
You might be asking yourself “will melatonin help me sleep?” There’s all sorts of claims of it being the natural magic bullet for anyone who has trouble falling asleep, but what really is melatonin and how does it work?
What is Melatonin?
Melatonin is the hormone produced by the pineal gland. It’s secreted in response to darkness. It helps with the timing of your circadian rhythms (24-hour internal clock) and with sleep. Basically, it signals your brain that it’s time to go to sleep. Your natural melatonin levels begin to rise soon after the onset of darkness, usually about 2 hours before you sleep.
It’s important to note that melatonin doesn’t just knock you out, but rather makes your brain think you’re in a dark environment and reduces dopamine levels, which puts you in a state of quiet wakefulness that helps promote sleep.
Melatonin, Serotonin & Your Sleep Cycle
Exposure to light decreases melatonin production, while increasing serotonin production. Both hormones play very important roles in your sleep cycle, while melatonin helps put you to sleep at night, serotonin helps wake you up in the morning. Blue light is especially responsible for inhibiting melatonin production , so if you’re someone who spends a lot of time in front of a screen at night, you’re probably inhibiting your natural melatonin levels.
When it comes to dosage it’s always best to consult your doctor first. This is a general guide only and shouldn’t be used as medical advice.
It’s important to take melatonin at the right times, if taken too late you’ll probably feel pretty tired and groggy the next day, so it’s recommended to take melatonin 1-2 hours before bed time.
In the short term, melatonin seems to work well and be safe for children However only a few studies have looked at its long term use in children. We don’t recommend melatonin for use in children unless advised by a doctor.
While there’s no official dosage recommendation for adults, a range of about 0.5mg – 5mg is usually optimal. Always start with the lowest dosage and work your way up.
As you age your melatonin levels naturally decrease , which can mean an increased sensitivity to melatonin. It is recommended that older adults start with the lowest dosage possible to avoid any side effects, dosages as little as 0.1mg can be safe and effective.
Melatonin vs Sleeping Pills
Melatonin is often used as a treatment for different types of insomnia, other forms of treatment usually include sleeping pills like benzodiazepines or Z- drugs. While these other forms of medication can definitely put you to sleep they don’t come without their fair share of side effects. There’s 3 main problems with them.
1, They’re in the class of drugs known as sedative hypnotics, sedation isn’t real sleep. They’ll definitely knock you out, but that doesn’t mean you’re getting good, healthy sleep.
2, Sleeping pills come with an increased risk of cancer and premature death, even at low levels of use. A study conducted by the British Medical Journal  showed that even patients who were prescribed fewer than 18 pills a year were 3.6 times more likely to die. Among this, people who were prescribed sleeping pills were more likely to develop lymphoma, lung, colon and prostate cancer than a current smoker.
3, When you stop taking melatonin to help you sleep, you typically stay in that healthy pattern of sleep. When you stop taking sleeping pills to aid your sleep, you not only typically fall back into a bad pattern of sleep, but you can also have withdrawals and rebound insomnia , which can lead to even worse sleep.
Melatonin Side Effects & Interactions The most common melatonin side effects include:
Other, less common melatonin side effects might include short-lasting feelings of depression, mild tremor, mild anxiety, abdominal cramps, irritability, reduced alertness, confusion or disorientation, and abnormally low blood pressure (hypotension). Because melatonin can cause daytime drowsiness, don’t drive or use machinery within five hours of ingestion.
In addition, melatonin can interact with various medications, including:
- Anticoagulants and antiplatelet drugs
- Contraceptive drugs
- Diabetes medications
- Medications that suppress the immune system (immunosuppressants)
While melatonin can be a great tool for fixing your sleeping problems, it shouldn’t be thought of as a permanent treatment, but rather a tool to reset your circadian rhythm to a healthy schedule. While long term use of melatonin is many times safer than other sleeping aid options and has been safely used by people for up to 2 years, it can cause some side effects.
If you’re considering taking melatonin supplements, check with your doctor first, especially if you have any health conditions or take other medication. He or she can help you determine if melatonin is right for you.
If you’re interested in trying melatonin, we have some products available here