General Health

Melatonin For Sleep: Does It Work?

The average adult needs to sleep for at least seven hours each night, with a recommended maximum of nine hours of sleep.

Sleep deficiency is a prevalent problem in the general population. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, local populations in some states have a sleep deficiency rate of over 40%1.

Sleep deficiency has been linked to several of the leading causes of death in the United States2. People who do not sleep enough are at risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cognitive impairment, and obesity.

There are multiple options that people can turn to when they want to improve their sleep. In many cases, sleep problems develop due to an imbalance in the circadian rhythm.

Melatonin has been suggested as a natural way of improving sleep. The use of the supplement may provide an improvement in the body’s natural sleep-wake cycle. We take a closer look at what Melatonin is in this post. We will also consider how this natural hormone work to improve sleep.

What Is Melatonin?

Melatonin is a natural hormone. The human body already contains some of the hormones. The pineal gland is responsible for producing Melatonin in the body. The gland is found in the center of a person’s brain. It is about the size of a pea.

The melatonin hormone helps regulate the sleep-wake cycle of the body. It tells a person should they should go to sleep. Melatonin also tells a person when they need to wake up.

Usually, Melatonin will be synced with the day-night cycle. At night, there is an increase in melatonin production. This causes a person to feel tired. In the morning, melatonin production declines. This is when the person starts to wake up.

There are some cases where the regulation of Melatonin is altered. This is often the case in a person who suffers from insomnia. People who work night shift positions are also at risk of a melatonin imbalance. When these factors affect a person, Melatonin will not release at the correct time. This can upset the natural sleep-wake cycle of the body.

Some supplements contain Melatonin. In these cases, the idea is to simulate the effects of Melatonin. The supplement gives a person control over when there should be an increase in Melatonin. A melatonin supplement is most often taken at night before a person goes to bed. This helps with the regulation of the person’s sleep-wake cycle.

Melatonin supplements are available in different forms. Many people prefer to take tablets that contain this hormone. There are also chewable products and liquids available that contain Melatonin.

These supplements often contain natural Melatonin. In such a case, the Melatonin would be retrieved from pineal glands extracted from certain animals. Some supplements contain Melatonin that is made in a laboratory. In such a case, the product would offer a person synthetic Melatonin.

How Does Melatonin Work?

People need to understand how Melatonin works before they decide to use these supplements. The action from both synthetic and natural melatonin supplement tend to be quite similar.

Some people have low levels of Melatonin in their bodies. A few cases have been linked to such a situation.

Melatonin supplements cause an increase in this hormone in the human body. This can be helpful when a person’s natural response to day and night does not effectively regulate Melatonin in their body.

In a normal situation, a person would find that their body automatically produces more Melatonin when night falls. People with a sleep disorder that affects Melatonin may not get as tired at night. Many people would find it difficult to fall asleep before around 2 am. The next morning, the person might find it harder to wake up. This is because melatonin production is not effectively reduced as night comes to an end.

What Impact Does Melatonin Have On Sleep?

People should take note that Melatonin may not work for every type of sleep disorder. A person who experiences insomnia due to stress, for example, may not be able to benefit from the use of a melatonin supplement truly.

Thus, it is essential to consider how Melatonin affects sleep. This would allow the person to know when they may be experiencing problems with melatonin regulation in their body.

First of all, a person should note that taking a melatonin supplement will not cause them just to feel sleepy and go to sleep immediately. It is not a sleep medication that will knock the person out. Instead, the use of a melatonin supplement simply helps to increase the concentration of this hormone in the body – at just the right times, in order to encourage a good night’s sleep.

Taking a melatonin supplement at the right time helps with the regulation of the sleep-wake cycle.

The increase in Melatonin is likely to make a person feel more relaxed. A relaxed and calm mind is important when it comes to sleep. Many people lie awake due to stress, anxiety, and similar issues. Their mind cannot unwind. This is where Melatonin may come in.

High levels of Melatonin may also be useful for cases of disturbed circadian rhythm sleep disorders. This is a relatively common issue among people who constantly change shifts at work. Those who work late hours or perhaps through the night are at a high risk of developing sleep disorders.
Several studies have looked at the efficacy of Melatonin.

One study in the Journal of Circadian Rhythms looked at the potential efficacy of Melatonin. The study participants included a group of female nurses. All nurses were exposed to shift work. They also complained about insomnia.

The study3 found that the use of melatonin supplements was highly effective among these participants. Participants were provided with a 5mg dose of Melatonin per day. The participants were asked to take the supplement approximately 30 minutes before they went to bed.

The primary benefit was reported as an improvement in sleep onset latency. Participants found that their sleep onset latency decreased significantly. This means the participants were able to fall asleep faster.

Another study4 in the Scandinavian Journal of Work, Environment & Health also provided evidence that Melatonin may be effective at improving sleep. The study also included participants who were shift workers.

The individuals were having difficulty adapting to a night shift job. Participants were asked to take a melatonin supplement approximately one hour before they went to bed. The supplements contained 3mg of Melatonin as an active ingredient.

Participants in the study experienced an improvement in their sleep quality and sleep duration. This is an important finding, as failure to sleep for an adequate amount of time each night can be dangerous. Additional findings were also made. The researchers report an improvement in sleepiness at the workplace among the participants.

It should be noted that the study did not use melatonin supplements alone. Exposure to bright light was also introduced to the participants. The combined effects were statistically significant.

Researchers at the University of Zurich Travel Clinic in Switzerland also conducted a study to see how effective melatonin is5. The researchers primarily focused on jet lag. This condition is known to have adverse effects on sleep and other related problems. Participants complained about poor sleep quality.

There was also a common problem with sleep latency. Participants were provided with a 5mg Melatonin dosage. The initial dose was provided before travel. Results were compared to a placebo group. There was also a group provided with a significantly lower dose of Melatonin. Participants in this group received a 0.5mg dose of this hormone.

At the end of the study, researchers noted an improvement in jetlag symptoms. There was a significant improvement in sleep quality. Furthermore, sleep latency also improved. The effects on sleep latency and quality were higher among the group who took a 5.0mg dose of Melatonin.

Side Effects / Precautions Of Melatonin

When a person decides to take Melatonin, they should ensure they are aware of potential side effects that could occur. Fortunately, this natural supplement is mostly considered safe.

There is no information regarding toxicity when a person takes a melatonin supplement. Severe acute side-effects have also not been noted.

Still, there are a few potential side effects that some people have experienced while using a melatonin supplement. These side effects are generally mild, but can still be bothersome and unpleasant. Some melatonin side effects that can be experienced include:

  • Headaches

  • Nausea

  • Dizziness

  • Sleepiness

Sleepiness and dizziness are generally not a significant concern. This is because Melatonin is taken to help a person sleep better. Thus, the sleepiness may be seen as the desired effect.

There have been cases where a person experienced sleepiness the next day, however. This type of side effect could become a problem. Daytime sleepiness can make a person more likely to have errors in their life. It also puts the person at a higher risk of accidents.

It is important to note another concern about Melatonin. Some medical experts are concerned that these supplements may adversely affect the body’s own ability to produce Melatonin. Thus, a person may become dependent on these supplements to ensure they can sleep at night. Even though not addictive, the person may still find it difficult to cope without the supplement when their body’s ability to produce Melatonin is adversely affected.

This is not a major concern, however. There are a few studies that have shown this is an unlikely effect of melatonin supplements. Still, people should be cautious when using high doses of oral Melatonin or when using the supplement over a long period of time.

Concern should also be raised regarding possible interactions of Melatonin. Many natural supplements are known to interact with certain pharmaceutical drugs. A person needs to consider both over-the-counter and prescription medications they take.

Some medicines that may interact with Melatonin include:

When using any of these drugs, a person should consult with their doctor. The physician would be able to determine if Melatonin is a good supplement for the patient to take. They will also be able to make appropriate recommendations.

This will help the patient understand if it would be safe for them to take Melatonin. In some cases, a doctor may approve the use of the supplement and ask the patient to look out for some signs of interactions.

Further Health Benefits Of Melatonin

The primary benefit associated with Melatonin is an improvement in sleep-wake cycles. The supplement may yield a relaxed and calm effect on the person taking the product.

This, in turn, may help the person fall asleep faster. The supplement may also improve the person’s sleep quality and ensure they sleep for an adequate period of time.

Apart from its benefits on sleep, Melatonin has a few other advantages. People sometimes turn to Melatonin for reasons other than to improve their sleep routine.

Other benefits that a person may experience when they use a melatonin supplement include:

  • Jet lag: The use of melatonin supplements is often advised for people who experience jet lag as a sleep aid. This is often the case for people who frequently travel. Melatonin helps to reduce the effects of jet lag on sleep. It has also been used to treat shift-work disorder in people with alternating work schedules

  • Eye Health: Researchers have found that there is some melatonin in the eyes. This means the hormone does have some role to play in eye health. It has been confirmed that Melatonin possesses antioxidant properties. Taking melatonin supplements might support the well-being of a person’s eyes. The supplement may also reduce the risk of age-related macular degeneration.

  • Heartburn: The effects of Melatonin also seems useful for the gastrointestinal tract. In one study6, melatonin supplements were effective at reducing symptoms of heartburn. The participants in the study experienced typical symptoms associated with gastroesophageal reflux disease. The condition is often referred to as GERD.

  • Stomach Ulcers: A stomach ulcer can cause pain and discomfort. The condition can also lead to severe complications. Stomach ulcers are often caused by specific bacteria known as H. pylori. It has been found that Melatonin could potentially benefit a person with a stomach ulcer too. The healing time of the ulcer may be reduced when a person takes melatonin supplements.

  • Growth Hormone Secretion: The growth hormone plays multiple critical roles in the male body. There is some evidence that Melatonin may actually interact with the secretion of growth hormone. The human growth hormone is secreted by the body naturally while a person sleeps. When Melatonin is used to improve sleep, there seems to be a more significant increase in growth hormone secretion.

  • Seasonal Depression: Seasonal depression, also called a seasonal affective disorder, is quite common in the United States. The condition may be affected by sleep cycles. Changes in light could also possibly affect seasonal depression. Some researchers have found that Melatonin’s effects on sleep and the body could improve symptoms of this condition.

Natural Remedies To Improve Sleep

Taking a melatonin supplement is not the only way for a person to improve their sleep. There are quite a few different strategies that people can turn to. Each option has a specific way of helping the person experience an improvement in their sleep quality and duration.

A few other natural supplements exist that might be useful for a person experiencing insomnia. Many of these supplements work by producing a calming effect on the user. When the mind is calm, people often find that it is easier for them to fall asleep.

Here are a few alternative supplements to Melatonin that people may want to consider too:

  • Lavender

  • Passionflower

  • Tryptophan

  • L-Theanine

  • Magnesium

There are ways to improve falling asleep without taking any supplements too. Getting into a schedule is one particularly effective way. A person should get into bed at the same time every night. They should also ensure they get out of bed at the same time each morning.

Exercise may also hold potential as a way to improve sleep. Other options include mindfulness meditation and practicing yoga.

Conclusion

Sleep deficiency is a common problem that millions of people face. There are effective strategies to overcome sleep disorders and improve sleep. Melatonin is a natural hormone that is already found in the body.

Supplementing the body with additional Melatonin may hold certain benefits. It may be possible to improve the sleep-wake cycle with this supplement. The appropriate dosage is essential, however, as this may assist in reducing the risk of side-effects

Sources

  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Short Sleep Duration Among US Adults. [online] Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/sleep/data_statistics.html
  2. MDPI: Healthcare. (2019) The Global Problem of Insufficient Sleep and Its Serious Public Health Implications. [online] Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6473877/
  3. Journal of Circadian Rhythms. (2008) Efficacy and hypnotic effects of Melatonin in shift-work nurses: a double-blind, placebo-controlled crossover trial. [online] Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18957133
  4. Scandinavian Journal of Work, Environment & Health. (2007) A randomized placebo-controlled field study of the effects of bright light and Melatonin in adaption to night work. [online] Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17572830
  5. Chronobiology International. (1998) Comparative study to determine the optimal melatonin dosage form for the alleviation of jet lag. [online] Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9844753
  6.  BMC Gastroenterology. (2010) The potential therapeutic effect of Melatonin in Gastro-Esophageal Reflux Disease. [online] Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20082715

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