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Melatonin & Sleep- What Is It & Why Is It Important?

image of our writer Filip Maric

Written By Filip

Sleep Advisor

Featured image of melatonin & sleep.

3 April 2024 7 min read

Hormones control many processes in our body and therefore an imbalance of one or more hormones can lead to physical problems and even behavioral changes. Melatonin is the most important sleep hormone.

You've probably heard of estrogen, testosterone, progesterone, insulin, cortisol, T3, T4 and many other hormones secreted by the glands. Hormones are divided into three groups – lipid-derived, amino acid-derived, and peptide. Other division is on exocrine and endocrine hormones. There are so many different hormones that there is virtually no function in our body that is not affected by hormone secretion.

Hormone secretion is influenced by many factors. For example, age, diet, stress and many medical conditions, among others. You can affect the hormonal balance in various natural ways, and sleep is certainly very important. That is why the hormone that is primary for this article is melatonin. Pineal gland secretes serotonin. Many are not sure what the difference is between the pineal gland and the pituitary gland because both are located in the brain and both are endocrine glands. But their roles are very different.

What is the primary role of melatonin?

An image of a young woman sleeping on left side.

The primary role of melatonin is to regulate our circadian rhythm. Circadian rhythm could be defined as an internal clock. It is the biological tendency of our body to sleep and wake up during 24 hours. While this should be something natural, there are many external factors that can negatively affect circadian rhythm and thus disrupt our sleep and wake cycle.

The melatonin production is influenced by the change of light and darkness. It is secreted more in the evening and thus prepares the body for sleep.

Before dawn, melatonin secretion begins to decline. If everything is fine with our circadian rhythm, then the peak of energy will be during the middle of the day, and in the evening when the increased secretion of melatonin begins, we will experience sleepiness. Although all this seems very simple, many people have sleep problems and then it is necessary to take melatonin in the form of supplements produced in the lab.

What do we use melatonin for?

It is clear that melatonin should be taken by all those who have trouble sleeping or just want to improve the quality of their night's sleep. But the effects of melatonin are certainly not just related to sleep. It can have many other benefits. For example, it's supplement is recommended to people who have problems with high blood pressure or who recently had surgery, among other things.

Falling asleep easier

An image of an older couple in bed sleeping well without snoring issues.

There must have been a time when it was harder for you to fall asleep than usual. The cause can be stress or, for example, a change of seasons, spring most often causes insomnia.

Then it is not necessary to take medication or start some other type of insomnia treatment, but in most cases, it is enough to try natural sleep aids, and one of the best is melatonin. You should no longer have trouble falling asleep after a few days. However, it's worth noting that melatonin isn't a miracle cure and it might be more effective for some people than others.

Circadian rhythm disorders

Jet lag is one of the most common circadian rhythm disorders. Jet lag occurs when you fly through many time zones. This has a disastrous effect on your circadian rhythm and jet lag will almost certainly occur, only varying in extent. Extent of problems with jet lag mainly depends on the direction in which you travel. It is worse when you travel east than west. It will take you a few days to reset the internal clock, and melatonin will speed up that process.

Insomnia

an image of a woman suffering from insomnia problems

Insomnia is a widespread sleep disorder that affects a large number of adults, but even children. It can manifest as an inability to fall asleep, short sleep duration, fragmented sleep or poor sleep quality.

It can be treated in a variety of ways, and one of the first things you should try is lifestyle changes and melatonin. Those with severe cases of insomnia should go to a sleep clinic to be treated with clinical sleep medicine. This is because insomnia can be just a symptom of a much more complicated underlying medical condition.

Tumor reduction

Numerous studies have confirmed that high doses of melatonin can reduce tumor size. High doses of it are best taken as a shot along with one of the other types of cancer treatments. It can also be effective if taken orally. Of course, it is necessary to consult your doctor first.

Recovery after a surgery

An image of a woman practicing breathing techniques.

After surgery, it is necessary to help the body to recover in every way. And nothing is as beneficial for recovery as sleep.

Since it can be difficult to fall asleep after surgery due to pain and side effects of anaesthesia, melatonin can help.

It is also advisable to take this hormone before surgery because it alleviates the side effects of anaesthesia. But make sure to run this by your doctor first, just in case.

Endometriosis treatment

Endometriosis is a condition that many women of all ages have and this condition is one of the main causes of very painful menstrual cycles as well as infertility. When uterine-like tissue begins to grow in other places, such as the ovaries, endometriosis occurs. Menstrual flow problems can lead to endometriosis. Treatment is very complicated, and melatonin is not used for treatment, but to alleviate symptoms. Consuming this hormon by mouth can reduce pain during the menstrual cycle and sexual intercourse.

Lowering blood pressure

High blood pressure is responsible for over 5 million deaths a year. Every year more and more people have problems with high blood pressure due to unhealthy lifestyle. And while melatonin can't replace drugs, it can certainly lower blood pressure. It is important to consume it before going to bed and to be released into the blood in a controlled way, and not abruptly, because then it does not have the same effect.

Improving your sleep schedule

An image of a happy woman in bed due to enough sleep.

You may be sleeping long enough and not waking up during the night, but nothing satisfied with your sleep schedule because you go to bed too late. Melatonin will not work wonders, but it will help you slowly adjust your sleep schedule until it is the way you want it.

Those suffering from narcolepsy can benefit from increased melatonin blood level. And a healthy sleep schedule can improve your overall quality of life in some pretty significant ways!

Calming effects

In many people who suffer from anxiety, the symptoms are worst in the evening. And even those who are not anxious during the day can be anxious in the evening. So you need something to calm you down and help you fall asleep faster. Also, melatonin is recommended for those who suffer from depression. It should be mention that many consider this hormon completely useless for depression, and even harmful, so it is up to you to decide whether you want to try it for depression or not.

Sunburn

If you want to take advantage of melatonin to prevent or treat sunburns you need melatonin gel. It helps a lot more if you apply it before sun exposure than after. Since it is a very strong antioxidant, it will reduce the amount of free radicals in the skin that occur as a result of sun exposure, specifically UV radiation.

Does melatonin create any possible side effects?

an image of a woman having a headache due to teeth grinding

Melatonin in general, and especially when taken orally, very rarely has a side effect and even if side effects occur, they are very mild. Nevertheless, any product can have side effects, including melatonin. Headaches and nausea are the most common side effects.

Some report low blood pressure, dizziness and daytime drowsiness after taking melatonin too. Other side effects are so rare that they are not worth mentioning.

Headaches

Although studies have confirmed an association between taking melatonin by mouth in the evening and reduced migraine in all ages, melatonin supplementation can also cause headaches. This is not unusual, as it can happen with any other supplement. Reduce the dose or stop taking melatonin completely so the problem will go away very quickly.

Nausea

Nausea will most likely not occur if you do not take too much melatonin. However, everyone's body is different and there is a possibility that body will react to melatonin supplementation in this way. Again, as soon as you stop taking it or change its form, the nausea will disappear.

When should you not take melatonin?

A senior woman suffering from Alzheimer's disease.

Generally speaking, melatonin is one of the safest supplements. Nonetheless, there are numerous conditions and substances that are contraindicated with melatonin and then one should be very careful and probably avoid taking melatonin.

If you are unsure whether to take it, it is always best to consult your doctor. After all, it can be hard to predict how supplements can interact with other medication and it's always best to have a professional do an assessment.

Pregnancy

There is still not enough research on the topic of taking melatonin during pregnancy. Since no pregnant woman should take any risk, it is best to avoid melatonin during pregnancy until it is proven that it does not harm the woman or fetus in any way. What is known for sure is that melatonin can affect the body similar to birth control, so once you decide to get pregnant, stop taking it. Although melatonin makes it more difficult to get pregnant there is still a possibility, so don’t count on not getting pregnant like when you take birth control pills.

Breastfeeding

There are two reasons why you should not take melatonin when breastfeeding. The first reason is the same as for pregnancy. Not enough studies have been conducted on this topic to be sure of safety. Another reason is the level of melatonin in babies. In the first years of life, the level of melatonin is the highest, up to 80% higher than in adults. That's why babies certainly don't need to ingest extra amounts of melatonin through breast milk.

Bleeding disorders

An image of a doctor applying a bandage to stop bleeding.

Melatonin will certainly not significantly affect the bleeding resulting from the cut. But if you have any of the bleeding disorders or you bleed a lot during your menstrual cycle, you better stop taking it.

As it may be useful for those with endometriosis, do not take it only on the day when you bleed the most during your menstrual cycle. Anticoagulants are contraindicated too.

Seizure disorders

Melatonin significantly reduces the effect of anticonvulsants and thus increases the frequency of seizures. Therefore, it should not be taken by anyone with neurological disabilities, especially autistic children and children with epilepsy.

Using birth control pills

We have already mentioned that melatonin can act as a contraceptive, but this does not mean that it should be taken together with birth control pills, on the contrary. Melatonin does not reduce the effect of contraceptive drugs as is the case with anticonvulsants, but may potentiate side effects. It also happens that melatonin in combination with birth control pills acts as a sedative.

Drinking caffeine

An image of A man starting his morning with a cup of coffee.

This is more about caffeine than melatonin. Caffeine should be avoided in the afternoon and evening so that you can fall asleep. If you drink coffee, energy drink or a larger amount of tea in the evening, then melatonin supplementation will have no effect.

So you should limit your coffee intake to 1 cup in the morning. Remember also that pre-workout supplementation contains a large dose of caffeine.

Diabetes medications

If you have diabetes, it does not mean that melatonin is forbidden for you. But as it can affect blood sugar level changes, consult your doctor and find out it is safe to take melatonin. And if so, what time of day is optimal.

Blood pressure medications

an image of drugs and medications

There are contraindications between melatonin and high blood pressure medications. Although melatonin may be beneficial for those with high blood pressure, in combination with medications it can have a counter effect. It can also lower the pressure too much to make you feel dizzy.

Plus, as we've stated already, it can be difficult to predict how medications are going to react to a new supplement. So, run it by your doctor and make sure that this pairing doesn't lead to any nasty side effects.

Taking sedatives

Someone who takes the prescribed dose of sedatives for any reason certainly does not need melatonin to additionally sedate him or her. If, in addition to sedatives, you have trouble sleeping, then approach should be changed most likely.

Using recreational drugs

As much as it is taboo, using recreational drugs is a common occurrence all over the world. And more and more countries are legalising cannabis and some other substances. In case you use recreational drugs, be careful with the dose of melatonin or do not take it at all.

How should I dose melatonin?

An image of a man talking a melatonin pill with water

Dosage depends on what you want to achieve, as well as your body weight, age and medical problem. Between 1 mg and 10 mg is considered the ideal dose for improved sleep and such a dose cannot cause problems in healthy people. Even below 1 mg can be helpful.

If you decide to take higher doses like 20 mg, 50 mg or 100 mg, then it is absolutely necessary to consult a doctor. Higher doses of 20 mg and more are mainly used to treat cancer alongside with chemotherapy. Anything over 50 mg can be toxic and is very rarely used, only for specific purposes.

These are no longer the doses used for sleep disorders and must be administered under the strict supervision of medical professionals.

Is it safe to take melatonin every day for a longer period of time?

An image of melatonin pills dosage for insomnia.

Every research conducted so far has shown that short-term use of melatonin supplements, up to 10 mg, is safe for all those who do not have underlying medical condition. As melatonin is the most important hormone in our body for sleep, using melatonin supplements should bring you a better night's sleep in every way.

But knowledge is very limited when it comes to long-term use. Although a few studies have been conducted, it is not possible to say with certainty that it is completely safe to use it for extended period of time. It has been observed that side effects are more common during long-term use than short-term use.

That is why it is recommended that melatonin be used short-term first, and after see how your body reacts to melatonin supplements, you can try using them longer, if necessary.

Children should avoid long-term use. When we talk about high doses, you should definitely not consume it yourself, neither short-term nor especially long-term, so in that case you will have guidance provided by doctors.

Conclusion

And that just about covers everything you need to know about melatonin! But if you have any questions or want to share your own experience with the supplement, feel free to share in the comment section.

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