What is Melatonin? — Uses, Benefits, & Side Effects
Have you ever climbed into your bed, ready for a good night’s rest, only to find that it’s a bit more challenging to fall asleep? As our attachment to our technological devices grows, so does the struggle to answer when the sandman calls. An interruption in melatonin production might be to blame, thanks to the light emanating from our phones in pitch black.
Melatonin sleep aids are steadily growing in popularity. According to a 2012 nationwide study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 3 million people rely on melatonin for a stable sleep routine. These numbers come as no surprise considering roughly 50-70 million Americans are affected by poor sleep.
But what is melatonin? What are its uses, benefits? Are there any side effects? You may have tons of questions you want answered before jumping on the melatonin craze, and we can help. Read on to learn more.
What is Melatonin and Why is it Prescribed?
Melatonin is a natural hormone produced by your brain’s response to darkness. It’s the guy responsible for helping us maintain our circadian rhythms (i.e., our 24-hour internal clock), keeping everything running smoothly. Contrary to widespread knowledge, melatonin doesn’t make you sleep. As your levels rise throughout the evening, melatonin puts your body in a relaxed state, promoting sleep.
Melatonin is produced in the brain’s pineal gland, but you can also find it in your eyes, bone marrow, and gut. Although it generally comes in pill form, it’s also available in liquid, chewable, and lozenge forms. You can even find melatonin in food, too! Favorite fruits, nuts, and grains, including walnuts, tomatoes, strawberries, cherries, rice, and olives, are great sources of this sleepy-time hormone.
With so much going on in our lives, it may seem like there is little time for sleep. However, getting a good night’s rest is instrumental in our overall health. Struggling to fall asleep, stay asleep, or get restful sleep are a few reasons why your primary care physician might suggest taking an over-the-counter (OTC) supplement.
Lack of sleep can deplete your energy, cause mood changes, lower your productivity, and increase the risk of diabetes and high blood pressure. Of course, there are other reasons why sleep may escape you. Seasonal changes, shift work, prolonged regular and blue light exposure, and changes in room temperature are among the list of reasons you might need melatonin.
Benefits of Using Melatonin
Taking melatonin supplements can help with a whole list of sleep-related issues, including delayed sleep-wake phase disorder, occasional insomnia, jet lag, and some sleep disorders in children. Because melatonin is a powerful antioxidant, it might be able to help you with more than catching z’s. Scientists believe it plays other crucial roles within the body, such as:
- Supporting eye health
- Relieving anxiety before and after surgery
- Relieving tinnitus symptoms
- Treating stomach ulcers and heartburn
- Raising growth hormone levels in men
Unfortunately, the full extent of melatonin’s benefits is unknown, as little data is available to back up these additional benefit claims.
What Precaution Should You Take Before Consuming Melatonin?
An excellent place to start before taking melatonin is to consult your primary healthcare doctor about whether melatonin is right for you. And if so, what dosage do they recommend you take? There are multiple precautions you should take. Here are a few:
Monitor Your Usage
If you are unsure how much melatonin you should take, a rule of thumb to guide you is that “less is more,” recommends John Hopkins sleep expert Luis F. Buenaver Ph.D, C.B.S.M. “Take 1 to 3 milligrams two hours before bedtime.” Melatonin comes in 0.5-10mg dosages, and you want to start at the lowest dosage, then work your way upward. Also, an important thing to keep in mind is that taking a higher dosage won’t help you fall asleep faster.
Interactions with Other Medications
Melatonin, like many dietary supplements, doesn’t always play nice with others. For example, blood thinners and anti-epilepsy medications are on the list of drugs that may not mix well with melatonin. People taking them should be under medical supervision.
The best way to keep yourself safe is to consult your physician to learn more about your medications interact with one another.
Potential Allergic Reaction
Understand that there is always a risk of allergic reaction when taking new medications, including dietary supplements. If something doesn’t feel right, stop taking melatonin and consult your primary care physician.
Pregnancy and Breastfeeding
Because there is little information about how safe it is for expectant mothers and those breastfeeding to use melatonin, we advise against usage.
The American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommends that older people with dementia not use melatonin. The supplement may also stay active longer in older people than younger adults and children, resulting in daytime drowsiness.
Other Health Conditions
If you have an autoimmune disorder, seizure disorder, or depression, it is not recommended that you take melatonin. Those with diabetes or high blood pressure should also consult their healthcare provider before popping a supplement. Melatonin can raise your blood sugar levels, and for people taking hypertension medication, it increases blood pressure levels.
Incorrect Dosage or Contents
Another precaution to take before buying and ingesting melatonin is to ensure that the container has the correct dosage. You also want to make sure that what you’re taking is actually melatonin. In some cases, melatonin bought at grocery stores and pharmacies contained an amount different than advertised on the label.
Possible Employment Issues
For those curious if melatonin can keep you from getting a job, you can rest easy; the answer is no! Melatonin is widely recognized as a natural supplement and is not one of the many drugs a pre-employment drug tests screen for.
Tip: If you’re using melatonin for sleep, but it isn’t helping after a week or two, stop using it and consult your healthcare provider.
Common Side Effects and Risks Associated with Using Melatonin
To date, melatonin is best for short-term use. It is not yet approved as a long-term solution. A 2015 review on safety by the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health found that only mild side effects were present in those participating.
The most common side effects include the following and only occur in a small percentage of people:
- Day-time sleepiness
Children tend to experience the same side effects adults do, along with agitation and increased chances of bedwetting. Also, because melatonin is a hormone, scientists are studying whether melatonin can impact hormonal development such as puberty and menstrual cycles. Studies are still inconclusive.
At this time, the long-term side effects of taking melatonin supplements are unclear. Scientists are still conducting studies to learn more about its impact.
Countrywide Testing: Your Source for Drug Testing
Melatonin is quickly rising in the ranks as a popular method for getting a good night’s sleep. Still, it is important to know what to expect before taking these supplements. If you have questions about melatonin or any other drugs and supplements and their effects, Countrywide Testing can help.
We are an online retailer of drug and alcohol testing and lab services, and we also have a variety of resources available to you. Our products include pregnancy tests, medical supplies, multi-panel drug tests, and more. We also work with a SAMHSA, ISO, CLIA, and CAP licensed laboratory, which means you can rest easy knowing your samples get processed by a government-trusted facility.
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