Melatonin: The sleep hormone

Melatonin, often called the sleep hormone, is a central component of the body’s sleep and wake cycle. Its production increases at dusk, promoting healthy sleep and helping to orient the circadian rhythm. Although the bodies naturally produce melatonin, researchers and the general public are increasingly interested in external sources such as liquids and capsules to deal with sleep disorders. Studies have shown that melatonin can improve sleep in some instances, but it is not suitable for everyone. It is essential to understand and carefully consider the potential benefits and harms of melatonin. Individuals wishing to use melatonin supplements should also be aware of dosage and supplement quality issues.

What is Melatonin?

The pineal gland of the brain releases melatonin into the bloodstream as a hormone. Darkness causes the pineal gland to start producing melatonin, and light stops it. As a result, melatonin helps regulate circadian rhythms and synchronises the sleep and wake cycle between day and night. Doing so facilitates the transition to sleep and promotes consistent, high-quality recovery. Melatonin produced in the body is known as endogenous melatonin, but hormones can also be produced externally. Exogenous melatonin is usually produced synthetically in the laboratory and is most commonly sold as a dietary supplement in the form of pills, capsules, melatonin gummies, or liquids.

Can Melatonin Supplements Improve Sleep?

Melatonin production by the body plays a critical role in the quality of sleep, so people with insomnia may benefit from melatonin supplements. Previous studies have shown that melatonin supplements may help both adults and children in certain situations. 

Melatonin in Adult

According to adult studies, the most obvious potential benefit of melatonin lies in people with sleep disorders associated with Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome (DSWPD) and jet lag. DSWPD is a circadian rhythm disorder that often delays a person’s sleep schedule by several hours. For people with this “night owl” schedule, getting enough sleep can be difficult when they have a job or school-like commitment that forces them to wake up early in the morning. Studies have shown that taking low doses of melatonin before the desired bedtime helps people with DSWPD to successfully regulate their sleep cycle. 

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Jet lag can occur when travelling at high speeds in multiple time zones, such as on intercontinental flights. This is because the internal clock of the body deviates from the local day and night cycle. Evidence from small research studies also suggests that melatonin supplements may help reset the sleep-wake cycle and improve sleep in jet lag people. 

 Shift workers — night shifters — often suffer from sleep disorders associated with circadian rhythm shifts. Studies of melatonin in shift workers have not yielded definitive results, but some have reported benefits.

Melatonin in children 

The use of melatonin in adolescents is still undergoing research, despite the fact that melatonin may be beneficial for children with sleep disorders. 

Several research studies have shown that melatonin can help insomnia children fall asleep faster. It can also improve their overall sleep time.

The results of a small study suggest melatonin may have particular benefits for children with certain medical conditions, such as epilepsy or autism spectrum disorders (ASD). 

Can Melatonin Help Insomnia? 

People who are suffering from insomnia face difficulty in falling asleep or staying asleep for longer duration. If symptoms persist for more than a month, it is called chronic insomnia. According to practice guidelines from the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (2017) and the American College of Physicians (2016), there is not enough strong evidence to recommend the use of melatonin supplements for the efficacy or safety of chronic insomnia. American College of Physicians guidelines strongly recommend the use of cognitive-behavioural therapy for insomnia (CBT-I) as first-line treatment for insomnia. 

Does melatonin work for shift workers?

Shift workers with night shifts may feel sleepy at work or unable to sleep after the day shift is over. 

Studies on whether melatonin supplements help shift workers were generally small or inconclusive, according to two 2014 reports. , seven studies with a total of 263 participants were considered. The results showed that (1) people taking melatonin could sleep about 24 minutes longer during the day, but (2) other aspects of sleep, such as the time it takes to fall asleep, may not change. It suggests that there is. However, the evidence shown was very low. In another review, eight studies of a total of 300 participants, five of which were also included in the first review, helped melatonin help shift workers’ sleep. Six of the studies were of high quality and the results were inconclusive. This review does not recommend the use of melatonin for shift workers.

Side effects of melatonin 

Most people can tolerate melatonin well and have relatively few side effects when taking it for short periods of time. Many people taking melatonin report sleepiness, headaches, and dizziness during the day. 

In children, the side effects reported with short-term use are similar to those in adults. Some children may experience restlessness and an increased risk of pissing when using melatonin. 

Tips to consider 

Note that the FDA regulates dietary supplements like melatonin, but the regulations for dietary supplements are less stringent than those for prescription and over-the-counter drugs. 

  • Some dietary supplements may interact with drugs or pose a risk if you have a medical condition or are undergoing surgery.
  • If you are pregnant or breastfeeding a child, take medications containing melatonin. 
  • It is especially important to consult your doctor before taking any supplements or melatonin.
  • When using supplements such as melatonin, read and follow label directions. “Natural” always may not necessarily mean “safe”, no. It is better to stay alert beforehand. 

Take control of your health. Talk to your doctor about the complementary health approaches you are thinking of using.

For both children and adults, consulting your doctor before taking melatonin can prevent possible allergic reactions and harmful drug interactions. In particular, people taking antiepileptic or anticoagulant drugs should consult their doctor about possible drug interactions. Research says that the dose of melatonin may vary, from a small dose of melatonin of 1 mg to a high dose of melatonin of 10 mg.

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