Can Melatonin Help You Sleep & Is It Safe?

Can Melatonin Help You Sleep & Is It Safe?

“Without enough sleep, we all become tall two-year olds.” -JoJo Jensen

Do you regularly spend the night tossing and turning? If so, it’s time to find a solution!

Sleep deprivation is a serious health concern. It doesn’t just make us cranky. Lack of sleep is associated with everything from weight gain to depression to greater accident risk. It’s linked with reduced cognition, slower reaction time, and increased disease risk.

One solution that is of special relevance for older individuals is melatonin supplementation. A hormone that is produced by the pineal gland in response to darkness, melatonin makes us drowsy and induces sleep.

Just like all hormones, melatonin levels decrease as we age with a steep drop off coming around age 45 or 50. This is one reason that older people often report increased trouble sleeping. Lower melatonin levels are also associated with increased risk of several diseases including breast and prostate cancer, diabetes, osteoporosis, and obesity.

Researchers theorize that the pineal gland regulates our internal “clock,” and once we reach middle age and become too old to reproduce effectively, release of melatonin is reduced. Because hormones function in a cascade-like fashion, having less melatonin circulating in the body leads to lower levels of other protective hormones such as testosterone, estrogen, and growth hormone. It’s as if the drop in melatonin signals the body that it’s time to shut down and allow the aging process to begin.

Some studies show that melatonin supplementation has an anti-aging effect in older people. In a recent review, scientists describe how melatonin supplementation may help prevent sarcopenia—the dangerous age-related loss of muscle, which is associated with bone loss and frailty in the elderly.

For example, a recent study found that giving post-menopausal women with low-bone density melatonin resulted in a 7% decrease in body fat and 2.6% increase in lean mass (possibly from increased bone density). A group that received a placebo had no changes in body composition.

Researchers think melatonin may have improved biorhythms. When biorhythms improve, people sleep better and are more active. This combination may have resulted in a reduction in cortisol and insulin and improved blood sugar tolerance, allowing for the women to lose body fat without also losing bone or muscle.

What About Using Melatonin For Sleep?

One reason melatonin may be so popular right now is that bright light suppresses melatonin production. Guess where biggest exposure to bright light comes from at night?

All screens, whether TV, a computer, or your phone, emit bright light that wreaks havoc on the pineal gland, lowering melatonin levels.

Studies on a wide range of populations show that taking melatonin to improve sleep may be one solution. In one recent study, older women who had been experiencing sleep disturbances slept better after taking melatonin. A study of young athletes found that taking melatonin improved biorhythms and how quickly they could go to sleep.

Melatonin may be most helpful in stressful situations: For example, it has been shown to help patients sleep following surgery, when dealing with an advanced cancer diagnosis, or when trying to overcome jet lag. It is also helpful for people suffering from certain ailments such as children with epilepsy, developmental disorders, or dementia.

Is Melatonin Supplementation Safe?

A common concern is that supplementing with melatonin will lead the body to stop producing it, however, there is no evidence supporting this theory. There have been no reports of toxicity or other problems from taking melatonin.

Grogginess and fatigue the following day don’t appear to be an issue either: The study of young athletes mentioned above used a large dose of melatonin and found no reports of fatigue, reduced vigilance, or decreased vigor. The majority of the research concludes that melatonin is safe and may be beneficial for improving sleep.

How To Take Melatonin?

Most studies show benefits from supplementing from as little as 0.3 mg up to 6 mg a night. Higher doses have been tested and show no negative effects, but it’s reasonable to go for the lowest dose that has a benefit.

Melatonin should not be taken at any time except before going to bed at night. Taking it during the day for a nap is not recommended because this could throw your biorhythm off.

Another way to improve melatonin levels is with food. Tart cherries contain melatonin and supplementing with tart cherry juice has been shown to improve sleep in several studies. Drinking something known as “night milk” is another option. Night milk is collected from cows milked at night and it contains high levels of melatonin. Currently, it’s only available in Germany, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it is available in a store near you as word spreads…

Who Shouldn’t Take Melatonin?

If you are on medication, especially antidepressants, blood pressure medications, or blood thinners, you should talk with your doctor before taking melatonin. Women trying to get pregnant should also be sure to consult a physician.

Final Words: It’s worth mentioning that the most convincing research shows that adopting healthy sleep habits is the most effective way of improving sleep: Have a set bed and wake time, make your bedroom dark, do something relaxing in the hour before bedtime, and avoid alcohol, caffeine, and electronics before bed.


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