Melatonin is a hormone. It is not an herb, a vitamin, or a mineral. Hormones are naturally produced by your body as you need them. Which means it is very unlikely that someone has a melatonin deficiency. While melatonin could be considered natural, in most cases it doesn’t come from the earth. There are exceptions of foods that contain melatonin in them, but this is a different type of melatonin than what is produced in your brain.
Your melatonin levels can be tested with a blood test, urine test or saliva test. If you are concerned that you may actually be melatonin deficient, ask your doctor about testing. Melatonin is produced by the pineal gland and sends a signal to regulate the sleep-wake cycle in the sleep center of the brain.
This is the really important thing you should understand about melatonin: Melatonin is a sleep and body-clock regulator not a sleep initiator. Melatonin works with your biological clock by telling your brain when it is time to sleep. Melatonin does not increase your sleep drive or need for sleep.
Melatonin is called the “Vampire Hormone” because it is produced primarily in darkness and inhibited by light. The levels of your melatonin increase in the middle of the night and gradually fall as the night turns to morning, so exposure to light before bed can push your biological clock in the wrong direction — making melatonin ineffective.
Melatonin treats circadian rhythm disorders (where you sleep the right amount of minutes but your body clock is at the wrong time), shift work sleep disorders and early morning awakenings — all things that deal with the timing of your need to sleep. Melatonin is not considered an effective treatment for insomnia.
Melatonin in pill form does not function like your body’s naturally produced melatonin: it affects the brain in bursts and rapidly leaves the system, instead of the slow build up and slow wash-out that your body’s naturally produced melatonin experiences.
The correct dosage of melatonin can be a problem. According to research conducted at MIT, the correct dosage of melatonin for it to be effective is 0.3-1.0 mg. Many commercially available forms of melatonin are in 3 to 10 times the amount your body would need. In fact, there is some evidence that higher doses may be less effective. In Europe, melatonin at very high doses has been used as a contraceptive.
Melatonin can have side effects. Melatonin (2-3 mg or higher) has reported side effects of:
- Next-day grogginess.
- Hormone fluctuations.
- Vivid dreams and nightmares.
Melatonin may also have some issues with safety. In the US, melatonin is sold as a dietary supplement, not a medication, so until recently melatonin has not been subject to the same purity rules and standards as prescription medications.
So what does all this mean if you want to try melatonin as a supplement? Melatonin has been shown to be safe in healthy people when used for up to three months at the correct dosage.
Over-the-counter (OTC) melatonin:
- When taken several hours before sleep, melatonin can shift the biological clock earlier, making a better environment for falling asleep and waking up on time.
- When taken in the correct dose (0.3-1 mg), it can be effective for shift workers and people with circadian rhythm disorders.
However, most melatonin sold over the counter is packaged in doses ranging from 1 mg to 10 mg, with most doses containing double or triple the amount that is needed to be effective for the population that will benefit from its use.
Caution should be taken when using melatonin:
- It should be used under the guidance of a doctor and sleep professional.
- It should be used at the correct dosage.
- It should be taken about 90 minutes before lights out.
- It should be used for a short time (less than three months).
- It should never be used in combination with other sleep-inducing medications.
- It should never be used with alcohol.
- It should never be used with children (younger than 18 years).
- There are possible interaction effects and could change the effectiveness of your current medication regimen.
This answer should not be considered medical advice...This answer should not be considered medical advice and should not take the place of a doctor’s visit. Please see the bottom of the page for more information or visit our Terms and Conditions.
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