Melatonin: Uses, Benefits, Side Effects, and Dosage

how does melatonin work

There is nothing more frustrating than laying in your bed, wide awake and calculating how long you have before your alarm clock sounds. And given the many health benefits of sleep, it’s no wonder that athletes, in particular, are concerned about their sleep habits.

Getting 7-9 hours of quality sleep a night can help you maintain your weight, lower your risk of diabetes and heart disease, reduce stress, improve cognitive function, and of course, improve athletic performance.

Improving your sleep is an effective way to improve your quality of life.

And there are some pretty basic rules to follow that will help you get a good night’s sleep.

  • Don’t drink a pot of coffee before bed
  • Try to wake up at the same time every day
  • Sleep in a dark room
  • Limit screen time before bed
  • Exercise!

However, for a lot of people, a simple change in their routine isn’t enough to consistently get the 7-9 hours per night recommended for most adults by Mayo Clinic.

Still, others just need a little extra help catching those zzzzzz every once in a while before a big event.

If this describes you, you may consider using a sleep aid like melatonin.

What is melatonin?

Melatonin is a naturally occurring hormone in the brain that is best known for its ability to induce and regulate sleep.

While it doesn’t keep you asleep, it does play a major role in helping you fall asleep.

Because of its sleep-inducing qualities, melatonin is commonly used as a supplement to help regulate and normalize sleep patterns.

How does melatonin work?

how does melatonin work

Your sleep pattern, including how long you sleep and the quality of that sleep, depends on the time of day.

When it’s bright out, a region in your brain called the hypothalamus sends signals to release hormones (among a few other changes) that help you feel awake.

Once the sun goes down, your hypothalamus sends out another signal to release a few more key hormones, including melatonin.

This is the main reason that most sleep experts recommend limiting computer, phons, and TV time before bed. Staring at the light from your device can reduce melatonin levels. (Wams E, et al.)

Other factors play a role in your melatonin levels.

For example, as you age, your body starts producing less and less melatonin.

Actually, melatonin levels peak when you’re a toddler, decline until puberty, remain constant for around a decade, and then gradually decline for the rest of your lifespan.

According to multiple studies, the most drastic drop in nightly melatonin levels appears to occur around the ages of 41-60. 

Other studies have shown a correlation between higher melatonin levels and a plant-based diet, while still others have shown that smoking decreases melatonin levels. (Tan DX, et al.) (Ozguner F, et. al)

Some people simply produce less melatonin than their snoring counterparts.

Melatonin sleep benefits

One missed night of sleep isn’t a big deal, but for folks who struggle falling asleep or staying asleep (or any other irregularity in their sleep pattern), getting enough restful sleep can be a real battle.

Irregular sleep patterns are associated with a wide variety of health problems and premature aging.

Melatonin supplementation exerts most of its benefits through decreased sleep latency, or a reduction of the time it takes to fall asleep.

Who should take melatonin?

Melatonin is especially beneficial for people who have irregular sleep patterns, such as people suffering from jet lag, folks who perform shift work, or athletes who are overtraining.

Melatonin can also help athletes aged 40-60 who are experiencing a decrease in melatonin levels.

Frankly, melatonin can benefit anyone who is trying to regulate their sleep schedule. 

How much melatonin per day?

For most people, 1 to 5 mg of melatonin is an appropriate dosage.

Taking more than 5 mg will not help you fall asleep faster, as the benefits of melatonin are not dose-dependent. 

Growth hormone appears to spike slightly better at 5mg than 500mcg, although both doses are fairly effective.

When should I take melatonin?

when should I take melatonin

To help with sleep, take roughly 30 minutes before going to bed.

Research on melatonin

A lot of research has been conducted on melatonin and sleep, and most show patients falling asleep faster with the help of melatonin.

And because of the extensive research performed on melatonin, it’s one of the best natural sleep supplements available.

One study investigated the effects of prolonged-release melatonin on elderly patients with insomnia. Dosed at 2 mg.

The study treated 40 patients nightly, single-blind with placebo for 2 weeks, then treated with randomized double-blind to 2 mg melatonin or placebo over 3 weeks, followed by a 3 week withdrawal period.

The study found that melatonin group “had significantly shorter sleep onset latency (9 min; P = 0.02) compared with the placebo group”.

On questionnaires, half of the patients reported substantial improvement in sleep quality with melatonin, compared to15% who reported improved sleep with placebo.

No rebound effects were observed during withdrawal. Daytime psychomotor performance was not impaired and was consistently better with melatonin compared with placebo. (Luthringer, et al.)

A 2007 study in older people with primary insomnia, another study showed that melatonin dosed at 2 mg improved sleep quality. (Lemoine P, et al.)

Melatonin has also shown efficacy for children suffering from insomnia that affects development. (van Geijlswijk IM, et al.)

As you can see, melatonin reliably shortens sleep latency. Melatonin may be so effective because it is associated with a decrease in body temperature. (Reid K)

Studies show that when melatonin is taken in an appropriate dose in the evening, melatonin normalizes sleep habits by helping patients fall asleep faster.

Is melatonin safe?

For most people, melatonin is safe. There have not been any reported cases of proven toxicity or overdose.

Taking melatonin is not associated with negative feedback. Negative feedback is when taking a hormone or other substance causes your body to produce less of that substance.

Melatonin is not addictive.

However, because melatonin produces drowsiness, there are a few common-sense rules to follow.

For example, don’t take melatonin in the morning before driving to work and don’t take melatonin before operating equipment.

Also, because melatonin reduces sleep latency, it isn’t recommended to take with sedatives.

Melatonin side effects

Melatonin guessed it...drowsiness! Melatonin may also produce headaches, dizziness, and stomach cramps. If you’ve never tried melatonin before, start with a small dose.

Melatonin interactions with other compounds

Do not use melatonin if you have an autoimmune disorder, a seizure disorder, or if you are breastfeeding.

Because of the sleep-inducing properties of melatonin, it’s not recommended that you take melatonin with sedatives.

Where can I find melatonin?

You can find melatonin as a supplement pill, chew, gummy, liquid, or capsule. Or you can find it dosed at 5 mg in SleepElite, along with other sleep-promoting ingredients.

About The Author

Michelle Stampe South Dakota


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