Melatonin for Sleep: Everything You Need to Know About the Snooze-Inducing Hormone
By: Mary Squillace
- Melatonin, aka the sleep hormone, is produced by our pineal gland to help regulate our biological clock. It’s activated by light and dark and is secreted at night.
- Melatonin can be derived from plants and used as a supplement to help improve sleep, and it’s often used as a treatment in sleep disorders, as a remedy for jet lag, and among shift-workers.
- As a supplement, melatonin is mostly safe, but it can produce side effects such as grogginess, dizziness, and headaches — especially if you’re taking too much. Your best bet is sticking to a 0.3 milligram dose, which is significantly less than you’ll find in a standard supplement dose.
Wouldn’t it be great if you could pop a pill for better sleep? A pill that’s non-habit-forming, doesn’t require a prescription, and doesn’t make you do strange things like eat in your sleep? Well, maybe you can. While more satisfying zzz’s in pill form sounds too good to be true, there’s promising evidence that melatonin, the naturally occurring hormone in our bodies, can be harnessed as a supplement for better sleep.
What is melatonin?
Melatonin is a multitasking hormone produced by the brain’s pinecone-shaped pineal gland. Melatonin plays several roles in the body, including helping to regulate blood pressure, boost immune function, and manage cortisol levels. But melatonin is probably best known for its soporific powers. Chief among its responsibilities is regulating the body’s circadian rhythm so it knows when to rest and when to wake up. That’s why melatonin is often referred to as the body’s sleep hormone.
How does melatonin work?
Melatonin is controlled by light and darkness. When we’re awake and the sun’s out, we don’t produce any melatonin. But at night, the onset of darkness signals to our pineal gland to release melatonin into the bloodstream. Your melatonin levels begin to increase about two hours before you go to bed, typically around 9 p.m., and peak about five hours later. As melatonin levels rise throughout our body — it’s found in a variety of our organs, including our eyes, bones, ovaries/testes and gut — our body knows it’s time to drift off to Slumber Town.
Supplementing with melatonin
Humans aren’t the only organism that produces melatonin. It’s also found in meat (eggs and fish are particularly high in melatonin compared to other animal products) as well as leaves and seeds, in which it protects plants from oxidative and environmental stress. As a result, many plants are a good source of melatonin. But melatonin is also extracted from these leaves and seeds and conveniently packed into melatonin supplements, for all of your sleep-hacking needs.
Melatonin supplements are used to treat a variety of sleep and circadian rhythm disorders, ranging from insomnia to jet lag. It also makes sleep more efficient and helps people fall asleep faster. Melatonin supplements work the same as the melatonin we naturally produce works. Ingested melatonin simply adds to our melatonin levels, so people who are melatonin-deficient will likely experience the biggest benefit from supplementing with melatonin. And according to research, there’s no need to worry that supplements will interfere with your body’s ability to produce melatonin on its own.
To get the most out of melatonin supplements, take them one to two hours before you hit the sack. You’ll see melatonin recommended in a range of doses, starting at around 0.5 milligrams up to 10 milligrams for people with sleep disorders, with the most common dosage being around 3 milligrams. But even this is probably way more than you need. You’re better off basing your melatonin intake on increments that mirror how much melatonin our bodies produce at night. According to clinical studies, the optimal dose is 0.3 milligrams, which is the amount of plant-sourced melatonin you’ll find in one dose of Bulletproof’s Sleep Mode supplements. Sleep Mode is also formulated with other synergistic snooze-boosters, including L-ornithine, a stress-relieving adaptogenic amino acid, and MCT oil, which gives your body the energy it needs while at rest. These ingredients work together to help you fall asleep faster, without the morning grogginess.
Melatonin side effects
Overall, the side effects of melatonin are pretty toothless. Unlike other sleep aids, like benzodiazepines and z-drugs (think: Ambien and Lunesta), melatonin does not cause dependence or withdrawal symptoms. The most commonly reported melatonin side effect is daytime drowsiness. Other melatonin side effects include nausea, headache, and dizziness. If course, if you’re taking other medications, you should check with your physician before popping a melatonin. It has been known to interact with some antidepressants, blood pressure medications, sedatives, antibiotics, and antihistamines.
And lest you think melatonin supplements are a family affair, it’s worth noting that though melatonin supplements has overwhelmingly been deemed safe for adults, it has not yet been approved for kids or teens.
Even though the overwhelming verdict is that melatonin is safe, you can have too much of a good thing. Overdosing on melatonin has not been shown to be fatal, but it can produce the aforementioned side effects, like dizziness and grogginess. In one known case, after taking 24 milligrams of melatonin (that’s eight times more than the standard dose and 80 times more than Bulletproof’s recommended dosage), a man became lethargic and disoriented, but returned to normal and did not continue to have issues once he lowered his dosage.
In addition, large doses could potentially cause amenorrhea (skipped periods) in women, due to it suppressing gonadotropin-releasing hormones, but if you can easily remedy this side effect by simply stopping your melatonin supplements.
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