Know Your Nutrients: Melatonin

What is melatonin?
Melatonin is a hormone naturally secreted by a tiny gland in your brain, which helps regulate your body’s circadian rhythm, also known as your “sleep/wake cycle”. At night, when your surrounding environment becomes dark, your brain increases its production of melatonin, which induces a feeling of sleepiness to help you get a good night’s rest. In the morning, exposure to light causes melatonin to be broken down rapidly and prevents your brain from producing any more, allowing you to wake up feeling refreshed and ready to start your day.

If melatonin is a natural hormone, why would I need to take it as a supplement?
One of the problems with melatonin is that its production decreases as you get older, so it may become more difficult to fall asleep, stay asleep, or both. But it can also affect people of all ages, too. For example, shift work and travel across time zones can also disrupt melatonin production, making it more difficult to get proper sleep, and those are often the times when sleep is needed the most.

Lack of sufficient melatonin and disturbances in its production (i.e. the body not producing melatonin when you need it) can cause sleep problems, lethargy and mood disorders, and that’s when a melatonin supplement can come in handy. A melatonin supplement can help regulate the body’s sleep/wake cycle and can enhance the body’s own melatonin production to help reduce the time it takes to fall asleep and help you stay asleep. Don’t underestimate the importance of proper melatonin production. Insufficient sleep has been linked to many health concerns such as stress, high blood pressure and reduced immune function.

Is taking melatonin the same as taking a sleeping pill?
Taking melatonin is not exactly the same as taking a sleeping pill. Since melatonin is naturally occurring in our bodies, melatonin will have a more subtle, gentle effect, making it ideal for people with mild to moderate sleep issues. This makes it a great alternative to traditional over-the-counter sleep aids, since melatonin doesn’t have the side effects commonly associated with taking a sleeping pill. This includes such as dry mouth, dry eyes, dizziness, next day drowsiness, or the risk of becoming habit-forming.

What are some of the benefits of melatonin?
Melatonin supplements have a number of key benefits, including:

  • Helping reduce the time it takes you to fall asleep.
  • Helping increase total sleep time.
  • Boosting daytime alertness.
  • Helping you get into a deeper stage of sleep, which is important for helping your body to repair and regenerate.

When Should I Take Melatonin?

  • Take at least 30-60 minutes before bedtime.
  • Use it for a minimum of 3-4 nights to help restore healthy sleep patterns and helping you feel more rested.
  • Note that melatonin may not have an immediate effect, which is why you may have to take it for a few days before noticing its effectiveness.

How Much Melatonin Should I Take?
Start with a low dose, such as 3 mg, before working your way up to a higher dose, if you still experience trouble sleeping. If you find you’re waking in the middle of the night and are unable to get back to sleep, you may want to consider a time-released formula, which will release small quantities of melatonin over a period of several hours.

Are There Any Supplements I Should Avoid Taking with Melatonin?
As with all health products and medication, especially those that have sedative properties, consumption with alcohol should be avoided.

As with any natural supplement, it’s important that you speak to your health care practitioner prior to taking a melatonin supplement to ensure it’s right for you.

Other Tips for Getting a Good Night’s Sleep

  • Cut back on caffeine. Try decaf, herbal tea, mineral water or juice; avoid drinking close to bedtime.
  • Limit alcohol intake to one drink per day.
  • Drink 8-10 cups of water daily.
  • Avoid large meals late at night.
  • Try a light, carbohydrate-rich snack 30 minutes before bed.
  • Incorporate gentle exercise but avoid late in the evening.
  • Ensure you have a dark, quiet bedroom, and avoid watching TV before you fall asleep.

Note: The information provided here is intended solely as a guideline and is not meant to treat, cure or prevent any condition or disease. Always consult a qualified health care practitioner prior to using any natural health product.