Melatonin is a type of hormone that is produced and released by the pineal gland. It’s responsible for maintaining the body’s circadian rhythm (also termed as the sleep-wake cycle). According to a study, melatonin release improves when in darkness. This is because darkness signals the nervous system to rest.
On the other hand, the brain associates lighted environments to awakeness or alertness. In animals, it also regulates their circadian rhythm which helps them maintain a healthy reproductive system, blood pressure, and sleep-wake cycle. Most plants contain melatonin; its primary function is to prevent oxidative stress.
The existence of melatonin was first discovered in the early 1900s by American physiologists Floyd Allen and Carey Pratt McCord. They observed the change of skin color in tadpoles, which has lightened when fed with pineal gland extracts of a cow. However, the term melatonin was first used in 1958 by a dermatology professor at Yale University named Aaron Lerner. He believed that the hormone released by the pineal gland may treat skin disease. It was until the 70s that the basic purpose of melatonin was discovered, which is to aid the sleep-wake cycle.
A study in 1993 observed that melatonin may act as a strong antioxidant against toxins and free radicals. It also revealed that it’s even more effective than vitamin e as a lipophilic antioxidant. In addition to its antioxidant property, studies also showed that it may strengthen the immune system and contains anti-inflammatory compounds. Melatonin is proven to have potent amounts of antioxidants; however, research claims on immune system improvement is partially conclusive. Up to the present, on-going studies are still being made on the interaction between melatonin and the immune system.
Newly born infants need more sleep as possible because normally they have an irregular melatonin production within three months after birth. Its production should become consistent after three months. Studies have shown that as we grow melatonin release by the pineal gland drops. Then combine that with bad sleeping habits then it leads to sleep disorders. Usually, adults compensate for the decrease in melatonin levels through supplements or medications.
Melatonin supplements are usually taken orally. It’s popularly used for managing sleep problems such as insomnia and by people with sleep troubles acquired from shift work or jetlag. Though overall benefits in supplement forms are inconclusive, one research shows participants induced with melatonin starts to sleep six minutes after intake however no change in general sleep patterns. They concluded, that it may only temporarily manage sleep difficulties in the short-term.
Melatonin taken orally has no known adverse health risks. Though, it may give individual minor side effects like headache, dreamlessness, sleepiness, and in rare cases nausea. It is, however, not recommended for women during breastfeeding and pregnancy. It’s also not advisable for individuals with liver disorders.
The first patent of melatonin supplements was granted in 1995 and belongs to Richard Wurtman a medical doctor at MIT. Also, during the same year, this type of hormone got a lot of publicity claiming that it can heal various illnesses.
When to Take Melatonin Supplements
There are no general provisions on melatonin drugs and recommended amount of daily dosage. However, studies suggest that the standard dosage is at least 3mg but should not exceed 10 mg. They also recommend that intake should be progressive meaning the individual must start from the lowest dosage.
1. Sleep difficulties during the night
There are plenty of reasons to keep adults awake at night and combine that with the fact that melatonin release decreases as we grow, thus, the need for melatonin supplement is ever-growing in popularity.
An article published in the Sleep journal says that when supplements are ingested thirty-minutes before bedtime it should effectively induce sleepiness.
Supplements may only induce sleepiness and may render ineffective when we continue the normal “before bedtime routine”. It may require individuals to adjust habits from old habit.
Tips to Have Better Sleep
Observe the following routines to fully reap its beneficial effects:
- Turn off the lights and refrain from using your gadgets before bedtime. This is because the release of melatonin by the pineal gland improves when exposed to darkness. It can aid supplements to be more effective.
- Consistently follow the bedtime schedule. This will help you fall asleep faster in the following nights.
- Avoid caffeine and nicotine, these substances promotes alertness. Though alcohol may cause you to feel sleepy, it can cause adverse effects in the long-term.
- Acquire a routine before going to bed, like showering or listening to soft music. These practices will signal your body to rest.
It can be taken every night to help us sleep and doesn’t have any addictive substance. In general, melatonin supplements are safe and so far, no cases of serious side effects, however, partially concluded studies means that we still have to take proper care when taking them.
2. Shift work sleep disorder
Individuals working at night or have an irregular shift interrupt with the body’s circadian rhythm and may develop a condition known as shift work sleep disorder. Their sense of awakeness would always interfere against their desire to sleep. They may find it hard to get some sleep even though they feel exhausted.
Aside from melatonin, some health experts also advise dark therapy. As mentioned, melatonin hormones improve in dark environments. So basically, dark therapy means the room is dimly lighted and cooled to simulate night time. By doing this, we can somehow signal the nervous system to sleep.
3. Jet lag
Jet lags are non-threatening and may go away in a few days. However, if you frequently travel, jet lags may become burdensome. Melatonin supplement is proved to work against jet lags. Health experts advised the following before flight:
- Consume twenty to thirty minutes before the scheduled flight.
- Suggested dosage is between 1 to 5mg.
- Never pair melatonin with alcohol, caffeine, or sugar carbonated drinks because it may render melatonin ineffective.
When to Stop Melatonin Intake
One study recommends that a person should stop taking melatonin supplements if after two weeks of sleep health doesn’t improve. Consult your doctor if sleep difficulties persist.
On the other hand, if melatonin seems to work, continue its intake for two months every night. After that, cease intake and observed your sleep behaviors. You may continue melatonin supplement intake if it didn’t have any negative side effects on your health.