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What is Melatonin?
You may think of melatonin as another supplement on the supermarket shelf, but did you know that it’s actually a natural occurring hormone in your body? Indeed, melatonin is produced by the pineal gland (small gland around the middle part of the brain) and helps you fall asleep and stay asleep at night.
Does it just work at night? Yes, melatonin naturally kicks in when the sun goes down…well kind of. It peaks at around 9pm and its levels will stay elevated for around 12 hours. So by 9am, the melatonin levels are barely present, if at all.
Now, people who have trouble sleeping may opt for melatonin in supplement form around 2 hours to 30 minutes (it may vary from person to person) before you feel sleepy. This synthetic version helps boost the levels already found in the body so that you can fall asleep faster and stay asleep.
Melatonin in supplement form may be useful for conditions including:
- Delayed sleep
- Sleep disorders
- Jet lag
- Sleep enhancement
How Does Melatonin Work?
We’ll be the first to say: our bodies are amazing. It somehow innately knows that it’s night and triggers a hormone to help you get some sleep. Pretty cool, huh?
And once melatonin is secreted, it sends signals to the brain (and other organs) that the environment is darkening or growing lighter, which in turn, influences when we sleep. Light exposure inhibits the production of melatonin while darkness stimulates it.
And sidenote: did you know that also goes for blue light as well? Blue light, as in, the light that is emitted from your phone, laptop, tablet or any device. So if you’ve ever wondered why you can’t seem to get to sleep after watching thirty minutes of TikTok videos, that could be a major factor. Blue light can essentially “trick” your brain into thinking it’s day. Which to us, is just wild. Thank you dark mode and blue light glasses!
The action of melatonin prevents signals in your brain that promote wakefulness, which also encourages sleep by making you feel tired as you get closer to bedtime.
How Much Melatonin Should I Take?
Since melatonin isn’t a regulated drug, there is limited information on the optimal or safe dosage recommendations. With that said, a typical dose (that of which can be seen directly on the label) of melatonin supplements is said to be between 1mg and 5mg, but no more than 10mg. If you’re trying melatonin for the first time, it may be best to begin with a lower dose. Synthetic melatonin usually takes about 1-2 hours to work.
Melatonin is generally safe and is unlikely to cause harm. However, mid side effects can sometimes occur especially if you take higher doses. Some of which can include headaches, nausea, increased urination and dizziness. Other less common side effects may include irritability, abdominal cramps, mild tremors, feelings of anxiety, confusion and low blood pressure.
So what happens if you take some melatonin supplements but still can’t catch some Zzz’s? Can you take another dose? Again, it is unlikely to cause harm but may increase your risk for experiencing unwanted side effects.
A rule of thumb here is that If melatonin doesn’t seem to help you, stop taking it. Your doctor may recommend other sleeping aids or strategies to help you.
Melatonin and Birth Control. Is it Safe?
Studies indicate that hormones (estrogen and progesterone) in a combined birth control pill help promote sleep.
Furthermore, progesterone increases the amount of “slow-wave” sleep which reduces the amount of time it takes to fall asleep as well as reduces body movements while asleep. Research also shows that estrogen may promote REM and non-REM sleep.
Here’s the thing: birth control pills increase the natural melatonin in your body. So, when they’re combined with melatonin supplements, your overall levels of melatonin may become too high.
Overall, because both hormonal birth control and melatonin promote sleep, it is possible that taking both may increase the risk of sleepiness during the day and other side effects that are listed above.
Melatonin and Menstruation
Speaking of hormones, what about that time of the month? There’s an onslaught of annoying things that happen when we’re going through PMS and now, we can add trouble sleeping to that list.
The fact is, during the time in our cycle when the egg travels toward the uterus (the luteal phase), the body produces less melatonin. And this, friends, may increase the risk of having trouble falling asleep, staying asleep and having a restful sleep. So if it’s possible to pinpoint this phrase of your menstrual cycle, it may be beneficial to supplement with melatonin to ensure you get plenty of beauty sleep.
What’s more is that this decrease in melatonin may lead to sleep disturbances, mood changes, bloating and other symptoms of PMS.
Who Should Avoid Taking Melatonin?
Since research into the safety of using melatonin supplements during pregnancy (or when you're planning to become pregnant) is inconclusive, it is best to avoid supplementing during this time. There is also limited research into the effects of taking melatonin while breastfeeding, it also suggested that you avoid it.
It’s also important to note that you should speak to your doctor before taking melatonin if you have liver disease, epilepsy, kidney disease, an autoimmune condition or had a previous allergic reaction to melatonin.
The best practice is to consult with your doctor if you’re unsure.
Can I Take Melatonin Every Night?
Melatonin is a sleep aid so it’s important to think of it as such. It shouldn’t be something that you absolutely need to get to sleep and stay asleep every single night. Short term use of melatonin supplements appears to be safe for most adults. However, the effects of long-term melatonin supplements are limited.
If you find yourself reaching for melatonin every single night of sustained, long periods of time, it may be best to check in with your doctor. There may be other underlying reasons why you’re having trouble sleeping and they can direct you with the right plan.
Other Ways That Will Help Catch Some ZzZ’s
Melatonin can be a great sleeping aid, but there are other natural ways to help you get to LaLa Land as well. Here are some of our favorites:
- Practice yoga, meditation and mindfulness
- Lower the temperature
- Put your phone on dark mode or “bedtime” mode where notifications are silenced after a certain time.
- Avoid naps during the day (we know, it’s hard sometimes!)
- Try and eat dinner four hours before bedtime to allow it to digest
- Listen to relaxing music
- Exercise during the day
- Invest in good quality pillows
- Try journaling before bed
- Limit caffeine (not just found in coffee, it’s also present in chocolate and sodas)
- Trade your TikTok videos for a new book you’ve been eyeing
There you have it, everything you need to know about melatonin. If you’re looking for a new sleeping aid, consider our favorite supplement, Beauty Sleep. Not only does it include melatonin, but it’s packed with magnesium, zinc and ashwagandha to name a few.