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Learn all about Melatonin

What is melatonin?

Melatonin is a hormone that is naturally produced in the human body and is largely responsible for our sleep wake cycles. Hormones are proteins that travel throughout the body triggering responses. As with all hormones, it is important to keep levels of melatonin in balance. When we are in bed at night, the change in light triggers the release of melatonin from the pineal gland. The melatonin travels throughout the body through the bloodstream, helping us fall asleep. These levels remain elevated for about 12 hours.

What is melatonin for?

Many take Melatonin supplements to get better sleep and relax. By taking melatonin around bedtime, it helps stimulate and increase natural levels that tells your brain it’s time to sleep. While some suggest the effect could be placebo, there are studies that confirm its usefulness to regulate sleep.[1]

According to research, melatonin may help decrease frequency of headaches for those suffering from migraines.[2] It also suggested that migraine attacks were less severe and shorter than those previously experienced.

Melatonin is also an antioxidant, which can help your body fight off free radicals. The body encounter free radicals daily through pollutants and other toxins, and they can damage cells and cause illness and infection. For those suffering from digestive issues, Melatonin may help alleviate IBS symptoms. Patients found a decrease of pain and other symptoms in several studies.[3]

Who can take Melatonin

Healthy individuals with lifestyle factors that could impact their sleep, such as a change in work shift or increased anxiety, are best suited to take melatonin. People who travel frequently or experience jet lag or anyone with a sleep disorder may wish to try it as well. Anyone already on medication should check with their doctor for possible interactions.

Women who are pregnant or individuals taking blood thinners should not take melatonin. Also, melatonin is not intended for use by children or teenagers, especially for extended periods of time, unless recommended by a physician.

How to take it

When taking a melatonin supplement, it is important to follow dosing instructions carefully. Any type of hormone replacement therapy needs to be taken seriously.

Dosage

The amount and when to take Melatonin is dependent on your body’s interaction to it. More isn’t necessarily better. This study suggests a lower dose may be more effective than higher doses.[4] This is because melatonin, as a hormone, works with your body to create a balanced sleep rhythm.

Because of this, you should start with 500 mcg or 1 mg. Increase the dosage as you feel the need, testing out each measurement for a week or so. Some may find themselves satisfied with 3 mg while others may have to go as high as 10 mg. Just remember effectiveness is not dependent on the dose. Taking more won’t help you fall asleep faster.

For Jet Lag

Take a dose one hour prior to bedtime at final destination. For example, if the destination is five hours ahead and you plan on sleeping at 10 pm, take the dose at 4 pm your time. This can be done the day of your departure or begun up to two weeks in advance for preparation. According to this study, it can really help you cut down that jet lag when crossing several time zones.[5]

For Regulating Sleep Schedules

Start at a low dose one hour before bedtime. Increase up to 5 mg as needed for up to two months. If you already know which dose is most effective for you, continue with that for up to two months. This works best when you keep the same bedtime every night, weekends included.

For Insomnia

Studies suggest a 3 mg dose or lower is most effective for those suffering from long-term insomnia. [6]

For Migraines

Take 3 mg of Melatonin 30-60 minutes before bed. If you’re already on medication for migraines, talk to your doctor before trying this alternative therapy.

For IBS

Try 3 mg at bedtime for 3 to 8 weeks. Consult with your symptoms with doctor for the best course of action.

For Children

Due to hormonal changes during puberty and lack of research, it’s suggested not to give children Melatonin unless recommended by their doctor or healthcare provider.

Interactions

Vitamin D increases both calcium and phosphorus absorption and has also been reported to increase aluminum absorption.
  • Pregnancy and nursing
  • Antidepressants
  • Birth Control
  • Blood Pressure Medications
  • Diabetes Medications
  • Steroids and Immunosuppressant Medications
  • Caffeine, Tobacco and Alcohol

Side Effects

There are no serious side effects documented for taking melatonin, but residual drowsiness can occur. Consult your doctor if you are having continued sleeping problems. Many other side effects have been attributed to melatonin supplementation, including decreased sex drive, severe headaches, abdominal cramps, and formation of rudimentary breasts in men. However, these associations have not been supported by solid evidence. Since none of these claims have been well documented or independently confirmed, these problems may not have been due to melatonin.

Though most research reports that melatonin improves the quality of sleep, at least one trial has found that four of fifteen men given melatonin had their sleep patterns disturbed by supplemental melatonin.

Alternatives

Valerian and Chamomile - popular herbs that promote relaxation and sleep

5-HTP - Naturally occurring amino acid used for stress relief.

Magnesium - A natural nutrient used for many things including relaxation and sleep.

Theanine - A green tea extract that promotes feelings of calm and relaxation.

GABA - A neurotransmitter that helps filter out distractions so you can fall asleep easier.

Safety

Do no operator a car or machinery after taking melatonin until you know how it will affect you. Melatonin derived from animals may carry the risk of viral contamination so be sure to only get melatonin from a source your trust. Do not take Melatonin for extended periods of time (more than two months) unless otherwise directed by your doctor. Tell your healthcare provider if you begin a supplement regimen, especially if you have a medical condition. Be sure to check medications and other supplements for interactions before trying Melatonin.

Sources

1. J Sleep Res. 2010 Dec;19(4):591-6. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2869.2010.00848.x.
2. Cephalalgia. 2005 Jun;25(6):403-11.
3. World J Gastroenterol. 2014 Mar 14; 20(10): 2492–2498. Published online 2014 Mar 14. doi: 10.3748/wjg.v20.i10.2492
4. Thomson, E. A. (2005, March 1). Rest easy: MIT study confirms melatonin's value as sleep aid. Retrieved September 27, 2016, from https://news.mit.edu/2005/melatonin
5. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2002;(2):CD001520.
6. Psychopharmacology (Berl). 2011 Jul;216(1):111-20. doi: 10.1007/s00213-011-2202-y. Epub 2011 Feb 22.


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