A good night’s sleep is a blessing, but not everyone is able to get it. Sometimes, we even use support through the form of sleep aids. One such sleep-driving medical option is synthetic melatonin, but most users are cautious of the product. As a general practitioner, I get asked all the time about whether melatonin is safe to consume or how much melatonin should be taken to improve sleep. In this article, we’ll leave no stone unturned – I’ll answer all your questions about melatonin supplements.
What Is Melatonin
It is a sleep-inducing hormone that is present within everyone. This hormone regulates the sleep-wake cycle. It is secreted from the pineal gland found inside the brain. It induces sleep and other functions by acting on its receptors in the eyes, the gut and bone marrow.
Various factors control the secretion of melatonin including low light or darkness which enhances the release. Your eyes sense the decrease in light intensity as a signal to the pineal gland in the brain to produce melatonin, reducing nervous activity in the brain and thus helps you fall asleep better and easier. Increased light intensity (during the daytime) inhibits its release. The secretion follows a circadian rhythm and has a cyclical pattern. It starts soon after sunset and then reaches a peak by the middle of the night. It is followed by a gradual decrease that occurs until the latter half of the night.
Insufficient Natural Melatonin
Some people can not make sufficient amounts naturally. This can be attributed to several causes:
- Exposure to blue light (through smart devices) at night
- Working long hours or night shifts
The good news is that advancements in the medical field can help you when your natural levels are decreased. Today, synthetic versions are created in the form of chewable tablets, pills and liquid solutions.
Is It Safe?
Yes, melatonin is safe to use. The safety profile of the sleeping aid allows you to take the aid without any significant side effects. When taken for sleep disturbances and disorders, melatonin offers the least side effects.
Unlike other sleep-inducing drugs (benzodiazepines and zolpidem), melatonin does not cause dependency or withdrawal symptoms.
Melatonin-related compounds are also safe to use and are approved by the Federal And Drug Administration (FDA). Ramelteon and Agomelatine (derivatives of melatonin) are approved for the treatment of insomnia and sleep disorders.
The Correct Uses Of Melatonin
In addition to sleep improvement, it has multiple benefits for the body, which include:
- Treats sleep disorders and insomnia
We’ve established it helps you sleep. A meta-analysis involving 1683 subjects shows that melatonin effectively increases sleep time, decreases sleep onset latency (time taken to fall asleep) and improves overall sleep quality. According to a study, melatonin helps night-shift nurses sleep better at night. Another study concludes that it could improve sleep disturbances in people with dementia.
Melatonin improves different aspects of sleep, including:
- A decreased onset latency of sleep or ability to quickly fall asleep
- Improved sleeping time
- Enhanced quality of sleep
- Treating heartburn and stomach ulcers
If you suffer from heartburn, melatonin can be a good option as it can alleviate symptoms of stomach ulcers. A 2010 study noted the positive gastro-protective (protection of the gastric layer) role of melatonin
- Antioxidative and anti-cancer properties
The antioxidative properties of the synthetic drug are beneficial in imparting antioxidative effects. Furthermore, melatonin may also assist in combating cancer – in a study on rats, scientists found that melatonin therapy is effective in the long-term treatment of colon cancer
- Eye protection
The antioxidant properties of melatonin are advantageous in providing support to your eyes. Melatonin also improves eye health
- Stroke and cerebrovascular accidents (CVA)
In a 2003 study, scientists found that melatonin administration led to a decrease in the infarction volume of post-stroke patients
- Promotes your growth
The human growth hormone (HGH) is a hormone that is released naturally during sleep. Increased levels of HGH are necessary for the normal growth of young men and women. Normal sleep plus a signal to the pituitary by melatonin helps raise HGH levels
Dosage: How Much Should I Take?
The time of administration of melatonin matters more than its dose. The pills are effective only when given two to four hours before bedtime. You may think taking a larger dose right before bed might help you sleep better, but that is not the case. A small dose of melatonin two to three hours before bedtime is the ideal way to go.
How To Take It?
We recommend people to start with a small dose initially. You should take 0.5mg two to four hours before bed to begin with. Keep this dose if it is effective. In case that does not work, try increasing the level to a maximum of 3mg.
Melatonin Side Effects
Though it is generally safe to use but has some side effects. Prolonged use or overuse may cause more harm than benefit to your sleep and health. However, the side-effects are well tolerated and easily reversed by stopping intake. Side effects could include:
- Dependency (needing higher doses)
Supplements are available as a synthetic hormone that helps in insomnia, sleep disturbances, eye health and growth. It is generally a safe drug for adults and children.
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Benhaberou-Brun, Dalila, Chantal Lambert, and Marie Dumont. “Association between melatonin secretion and daytime sleep complaints in night nurses.” Sleep 22.7 (1999): 877-885.
Konturek, P. C., et al. “Role of melatonin in mucosal gastroprotection against aspirin‐induced gastric lesions in humans.” Journal of pineal research 48.4 (2010): 318-323.
Anisimov, V. N., et al. “Melatonin and colon carcinogenesis: III. Effect of melatonin on proliferative activity and apoptosis in colon mucosa and colon tumors induced by 1, 2-dimethylhydrazine in rats.” Experimental and toxicologic pathology 52.1 (2000): 71-76.
Pei, Zhong, Shiu Fun Pang, and Raymond Tak Fai Cheung. “Administration of melatonin after onset of ischemia reduces the volume of cerebral infarction in a rat middle cerebral artery occlusion stroke model.” Stroke 34.3 (2003): 770-775.
Serfaty, Marc, et al. “Double blind randomised placebo controlled trial of low dose melatonin for sleep disorders in dementia.” International journal of geriatric psychiatry 17.12 (2002): 1120-1127.