If you’ve been having trouble sleeping, you’ve likely exhausted the old wives’ remedies – drinking a glass of milk, listening to a soothing sound, wearing lavender on your wrist. But there is another entirely natural solution: Melatonin.
Melatonin is a hormone produced by your body that regulates your sleep-wake cycle. You can get it naturally from certain foods, but some people prefer taking a supplement.
If you’ve ever wondered if Melatonin is safe to take, or if it is even necessary, we’re here to answer those questions.
It’s simple enough to say that your brain produces melatonin while you sleep, but that’s a rather oversimplified explanation. In reality, melatonin is produced by your pineal gland during peak circadian rhythms, typically at night.
It enters your bloodstream and cerebrospinal fluid, and is then distributed throughout all areas of your body. Melatonin is not essential to the sleep cycle, per se. Rather, it calms your body before you sleep – essentially it sends signals to your limbs, like telling your legs “hey, we probably aren’t going for a walk for a while.”
Thus, melatonin production is closely related to your body’s circadian rhythm, which governs when you get sleepy, and when you wake up.
Infants produce the most melatonin, but production gradually diminishes over our lifetimes. Older adults produce the least melatonin, and some people of all ages may have a melatonin deficiency due to other medical conditions.
Melatonin has a half-life of 20-50 minutes, which is the time it takes your body to break down the active substances by half. So if you take the recommended dosage of between 1 to 5 milligrams, you should do so 30 minutes before bedtime.
As a naturally occurring hormone, melatonin is considered safe to take in small doses, for short amounts of time.
As far as side effects go, mild side effects can be observed with melatonin supplementation. These include headaches, gastrointestinal upset, and slight drowsiness.
Data is inconclusive on side effects from long-term use, so it’s also considered safe to take for extended periods of time. However, habitual use has a diminished effect, so you should try taking it for around 2 months, and then try to sleep without it.
You cannot become addicted to melatonin, but perhaps psychologically dependent on the act of using a substance to help you sleep. It’s worth trying other activities that help promote restful sleep.
The short answer is no. Melatonin is a natural hormone that helps your body regulate your sleep-wake cycle, so it’s not necessary to take a supplement to receive its benefits.
As mentioned earlier, there are a variety of foods that contain melatonin. Milk is the common one, but you can also find it in pistachios, fatty fishes, oats, and other melatonin-rich foods.
There are, however, a few circumstances in which melatonin supplements may be useful.
Melatonin is commonly used as a sleep aid in people who suffer from insomnia, and it may also be useful for people with seasonal affective disorder (SAD). It’s also used to treat jet lag, and may help with cases of sleep apnea.
In addition, Melatonin may be useful for people who have to wake up early in the morning, such as a marine biologist, or a farmer.
So, while you don’t need to take a Melatonin supplement to get its benefits, if you suffer from insomnia or sleep apnea, you may find it a useful supplement to take.