What is melatonin?
In order to synchronize one's biological clock (wake-sleep cycle), the hormone melatonin has to be discharged. This customary wake-sleep cycle is about 8 hours of sleep for most people and 16 hours of wakefulness. In the United States, melatonin can be given as an over-the-counter (OTC) supplement.
The release of melatonin is significantly boosted during the night (approximately 200 pg/mL) compared to daytime, because our bodies can recognize darkness. When daytime arrives, melatonin levels drop sharply with negligible traces during the day. The routine rising and falling of the hormone melatonin are what makes our biological clock fairly constant.
This wake-sleep rhythm is called the "circadian rhythm." The circadian rhythm is important and essential for the maintenance and upkeep of the human body. It is only during the sleep cycle that the body regenerates itself, leaving you feeling fully invigorated on waking up.
Tryptophan is the initial amino acid involved in the formulation of melatonin. It is then converted to serotonin, which gives rise to melatonin. There is more melatonin concentration in the eyes and brain to interpret the amount of light during the day. Continuous monitoring and keeping to memory are what makes the basis of our circadian rhythm.
Melatonin only lasts for 20-50 minutes, where it is then emulsified (metabolized) by the CYP-450 enzyme in the liver, and then it is ejected through the urine or stool. This enables the body to function seamlessly with a well synchronized biological clock.
The amount of melatonin secreted is particularly high in winter nights as compared to summer nights; this is due to the changes in the hours of days and nights. Artificial lighting, especially from home appliances, such as the television, can hinder the release of melatonin, causing sleep irregularities. With age, the amount of melatonin is also reduced at night, which can cause sleep disorders in the elderly.
This is why it is important that you adjust the lighting in your home, and the background residual radiation should be kept to a minimum so as to enable your body to be able to get its required 8 hours of rest each day. A well-adjusted sleep can leave you refreshed, whereas when you are not able to get the required sleep, it can leave you cranky, and this can even result in other health issues if not dealt with right away.
Studies on the use of melatonin as a supplement support its use in treating many sleep disorders and even cancer. However, its use is still limited. Melatonin has also been used as an antioxidant to back up one's immunity, prevent the growth of tumors, and relieve jet lag. It is widely used now to offset jet lag, which is more of a boon for international travelers, since they can offset the effects of jet lag with melatonin.
Is melatonin a hormone?
Melatonin is an endogenous hormone, which means that it is produced by the body. It can be made as a supplement that can be bought over-the-counter at most pharmacies and drugstores. It is widely available, but a better suggestion would be for you to consult your healthcare worker before opting to purchase melatonin over the counter.
Melatonin is frequently used for:
- Jet lag remedy, it is often used by international travelers to offset jet lag symptoms and to reset their biological clocks.
- Normalizing sleep cycles in visually impaired persons, it can also help to regularize and normalize sleep patterns for those visually impaired.
- People with variable working routines (as it treats shift-work sleeping disorders), since most professionals often work in shift schedules, most of them suffer from one sleep disorder or another. This is why this particular hormone comes as a boost, as most of these professionals often resort to using melatonin to stay up long hours and to reset their biological clock.
- Treating general sleep disorders, most doctors have started prescribing melatonin for treating various sleep disorders, and more often than not, it is quite effective.
How Melatonin Works
The pineal gland in the brain is actively involved in the secretion of melatonin. Melatonin is a lipid-based hormone made from tryptophan. After its production, it is passed into the blood and the cerebrospinal fluid, where it can influence melatonin receptors in the brain to take action in regulating your wake-sleep patterns.
Artificial melatonin (melatonin supplement) mirrors the actions of the natural hormone. After ingestion, its effects are felt after approximately 30 minutes. For maximum effects, do not take melatonin right before going to bed. It is important to ask your doctor about the best plan to get the most out of it. Make an appointment with your doctor to better understand melatonin and its various effects before ingesting the same.
Melatonin Health Benefits
Melatonin has numerous effects other than regulating your biological clock. It can also be used in reducing waistlines and migraines, as well as assisting in thyroid functions. Melatonin is a versatile supplement that has more uses than what it was originally intended. It has a wide range of uses, some of which are listed below.
1) Helps detect premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD)
If your premenstrual symptoms have a very disastrous effect on you or your partner, you should inform your doctor, since undetected PMDD can be diagnosed. Premenstrual dysphoric disorder is a hash type of PMS, which can cause disorientation in the mental state and may sooner affect your sleeping habits. Scientific facts show that a deficiency in melatonin may lead to severe PMDD.
In comparison to other women, those who have PMDD had much lower melatonin levels in the latter half of their menstrual cycle. This enables the physician to make a more effective diagnosis and quickly, as well, along with providing an effective treatment for the same.
2) It can delay signals of aging
For those who are extra conscious on how they look, melatonin supplements may be a good solution, especially after the age of thirty. In Paris, a study involving melatonin was done, and it was found that giving melatonin supplements to smaller animals slowed down their aging process by up to three months. Melatonin does not prevent aging. However, taking melatonin supplements is a good way to keep yourself looking younger.
This is not an elixir to ensure that you remain young forever, but melatonin does seem to work wonders on the skin, and it makes you look a little younger than your current age. Again, consult a physician to know more about melatonin, its effects, and how to use it and when.
3) Lowers the risk of diabetes
Inadequate sleep can translate to craving high-sugar foods. Low levels of melatonin have been linked to diabetes. Melatonin receptors are widespread in the body, even in the pancreas, where insulin is produced. According to the Nurses’ Health Study, people who had much lower melatonin levels were more likely to end up with diabetes in contrast to those with normal melatonin levels.
This is something that you may want to raise with your doctor, and if you have a genetic predisposition toward diabetes, then you can, in consultation with your doctor, use melatonin supplements as a way to balance it out.
4) Migraine relief
For most people who suffer from migraines, an uninterrupted slumber is a rare commodity. Melatonin has been known to cure headaches, while its absence is often linked to severe pain. According to the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery & Psychiatry, as little as 3 mg of melatonin can help relieve most painful headaches with extreme efficiency compared to other placebo drugs.
Aside from relieving migraines and being a sleeping aid, it also acts as an antidepressant. Melatonin is more tolerable than amitriptyline with minimal to no secondary effects. The next time you experience an excruciating headache, you may want to take some melatonin, as it can help to eliminate that pain right away. Consult with your healthcare worker, and read up more about the hormone and the effects of the same on headaches.
5) Activates an underactive thyroid
Hypothyroidism is a common health problem in women, especially those above 60 years old. Hypothyroidism results in a lesser production of the thyroid hormone, causing obesity, joint pain, and heart complications.
Women in pre-menopause and menopausal stages were surveyed, and 3 mg of melatonin was given to them for six months. In the end, an improved thyroid function and a more stable mood were reported.
If you fit in within the age parameters and have the same symptoms of women who are menopausal, then you need to consult your physician right away and find out if taking melatonin is advisable in your case and if it can help to offset some of the symptoms listed above.
Melatonin functions by maintaining your circadian cycle, treating jet lag, keeping the sleep-wake cycle constant for people with shift-work disorder (work schedule changes), and to help blind people establish a normal day and night rhythm. Other common uses of melatonin include:
- Treating insomnia and rapid eye movement sleep behavior (RBD), this is often used to treat the same quite effectively.
- Sleep disorders in children with developmental complications, such as autism and other cognitive disabilities. If your child is experiencing similar disorders, then you need to consult a pediatrician and find out if using melatonin can help with your child. If the pediatrician agrees with you, then you can go ahead and give your kid some melatonin supplement.
- Insomnia linked to attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), if you are experiencing insomnia as a result of your ADHD disorder, then you need to consult your physician and find out if taking melatonin can help you sleep better.
- Delayed sleep phase syndrome (DSPS), this syndrome is more as a result of stress, and with a medical consult, you can take up melatonin to make sure that you are able to relax and go to sleep right away.
- Insomnia due to beta blockers that treat high blood pressure, you can also use melatonin to offset the insomnia caused by the beta blockers you are currently taking. Consult your doctor right away to find out more about this hormone.
Melatonin commonly induces sleep after prolonged or discontinued use of the drug benzodiazepine and to get rid of the side effects of smoking. Other people abuse the use of melatonin in order to cure the following:
- Stress – melatonin is often used to reduce stress, as it enables you to relax and achieve deep sleep effectively
- Ringing in the ears – if you experience ringing in the ears, melatonin should be able to help you with the same
- Reduced bone density – melatonin can help you combat reduced bone density, as well, so consult your physician and see if taking this drug can help you both in the short run and the long run
- Migraines and severe headaches – if you find that you are experiencing migraines and headaches, you can take melatonin. This should help to get rid of all those persistent headaches once and for all. It is that effective against migraines and headaches
- Bipolar disorders – if you have been diagnosed with a bipolar disorder, then you will find that taking melatonin will go a long way in helping you combat the same
- Restless legs syndrome (RLS) – if you are suffering from restless leg syndrome, then taking melatonin should help you fight the same effectively
- Loss of vision due to aging – melatonin is also known to improve vision, as well as make you look younger, so if you are suffering from loss of vision due to becoming old, dosages of melatonin should help to offset the same
- Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
- Aging – melatonin is not an elixir to youth, rather the hormone makes you look a little younger. Do consult a physician to see if it is applicable for you to take this hormone or not
- Menopausal symptoms – if you find that you are experiencing menopausal symptoms along with mood swings and headache, then you should also know that taking melatonin can help to offset some of these symptoms
- Birth control
- Healing after undergoing surgical measures – melatonin can actually help you recover faster post any surgery. Although it is not routinely prescribed post any operative procedure, you can nevertheless ask your doctor about the same. Melatonin actually enables your body to heal faster and thereby limits your post op care to the minimum time
- Metabolic syndrome
- Pain in the jaws – if you are experiencing pain in the jaw, increased melatonin can help to offset the pain for now. You would still need a medical consult to help determine as to why you are experiencing pain in your jaw
- Loss of bladder control – if you find that you are experiencing loss of bladder control, then you need to consult your doctor right away. With melatonin, you should be able to bring it back under control in no time at all
- Irritation caused by anesthesia – if your body feels tired or your lungs are inflamed as a result of general anesthetic that was given to you, you may want to ask your doctor for some melatonin to help offset this irritation
- Exercise performance
- Acid reflux disease
- Acute mental disorientation
- Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS)
- Irregular heartbeats caused by changing position or posture
- Alzheimer’s disease or loss of memory
- Loss of sleep by the beta blocker class
- Benign prostatic hyperplasia
- An inflammatory disease called sarcoidosis
- Non-alcoholic liver disease
- Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)
- Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori)
- Mental depression or seasonal affective disorder (SAD)
- A lung infection called chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
- A motion disorder called tardive dyskinesia (TD)
Melatonin Side Effects
It is not common to have side effects. However, if you notice any of the following side effects, consult your GP as soon as possible:
- Allergic reactions, such as swelling of the lips
- Breathing problems
- Altered urge to have sex, especially in men
- Change in mental orientation
- Depression, nervousness, or changes in one's mood and normal actions
- Changes in one's heartbeat
- Feeling dizzy or being unstable
- Abnormal frequency of menstruation
- Oozing of milk from women who are not lactating
- Warning signs of liver damage, such as passing dark yellow or brown urine
- Trouble focusing or staying awake during the day
- Unusual activities during sleep, such as making phone calls or walking
- Unusual bleeding or bruising
There are also some mild side effects that may not require medical help, as they may go away on their own. However, if they still persist, seek medical help right away. Secondary side effects include:
- Stomach upset
- Having unusual dreams
Things to Keep in Mind While Taking Melatonin
If you are under medication and your symptoms still persist, seek medical help. This supplement should not be used for more than two weeks, unless prescribed by your doctor.
Sometimes, melatonin may cause you to be lightheaded, and in this state, you should not attempt to drive or operate any machinery that can be harmful to you or those around you. Stand or sit gently and slowly, particularly if you are elderly, since the risk of fainting and losing consciousness is higher. The consumption of alcohol may also influence how melatonin works and should be avoided at all costs.
Some medicines can interact with melatonin. If you think that there is a need for you to use melatonin supplements, seek advice from a medical professional, especially if you are already under medication for sleep, emotional, or mental disorders.
Supplements from herbal or dairy produce are not as standardized as medicines. Rigid quality controls are not needed for nutritional supplements, and the purity and efficacy of such products are also not equal to common medications. Whether this dietary supplement is safe to use in curing certain illnesses is still unclear. Melatonin is not intended to treat, prevent, diagnose, or cure any diseases.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) points out the following precautions to safeguard consumers:
- Ensure that you have read the information leaflet within the package, and follow the set instructions properly.
- Because it is natural, it does not automatically qualify as a safe supplement for human consumption.
- Search for products that include "USP" after the names of the ingredients. What this would imply is that the manufacturer followed the regulations of the US Pharmacopoeia.
- The supplements produced for consumption are normally made under tight scrutiny. Information on how the product was made and other procedures used can be inquired from the company.
Melatonin supplements must be taken orally with plenty of water, excluding food. This supplement ought to be ingested a few hours before bedtime, preferably 1-2 hours. After taking this supplement, you should try to minimize doing any kind of physical activity. Melatonin tablets may be crushed, chewed, or dissolved before swallowing. However, melatonin supplements in capsule form must be taken whole without breaking, crushing, chewing, or dissolving. Instructions from the manufacturer should be followed to the letter, in conjunction with your doctor’s recommendations. The exact dose should be strictly taken, taking not less or more than what was prescribed.
Regarding the use of melatonin supplements in children, ask for recommendations from a qualified pediatrician. More care should be employed when giving it to children. Moreover, this supplement should not be given to children unless prescribed by a pediatrician.
For maximum effect, initial doses range from 3 to 5 mg.
How to Use Melatonin for Insomnia Treatment
The recommended dose is 1 to 5 mg taken 30 minutes before sleeping time. From research, it can be said that melatonin can only promote sleep but not continuing sleep and early dawn waking.
Taking Melatonin for Shift-Work Complications
Take 1.8 to 3 mg of melatonin 30 minutes before sleeping for positive feedback and daytime sleep. Melatonin cannot improve the quality of wakefulness at night and only improves sleep during the day by 30 minutes.
What information should be told to your GP before taking melatonin?
The following medical information is vital before being given melatonin:
- If you have asthma
- If you ever had or have cancer
- Depression or any other mental disease
- If you have diabetes
- Problems with hormone secretion
- If you frequently consume large amounts of alcohol
- If you have immune-related problems
- Diseases of the liver
- If you intend to have or have undergone organ transplants
- Disorders causing frequent seizures
- Abnormal sensitivity after taking melatonin, allergies to other prescribed or non-prescribed drugs, foods, preservatives, and dyes
- You are pregnant or planning to get pregnant
- If you are lactating
What should be done when a dose is missed?
If you discover that you have missed a dose in the course of treatment, skip the dose. If the next dose is almost approaching, take only one dose. Do not overdose. Never attempt to take double doses, since it can be dangerous to your health.
These are types of drugs that can be bought at pharmacies and they come in a variety of colors. They come in pink, white, or brown with minimal differences in their shapes (small or round) and with or without markings. A variety of melatonin pills are available in the market, and their only difference is their manufacturing specifications.
Melatonin for Kids
Most parents opt to use melatonin on their children, especially those who have trouble in falling asleep. Parents using melatonin on their children are recommended to follow the advice of a pediatrician or a medical specialist. Sleeping disorders like insomnia in children should only be assessed by a pediatrician.
Melatonin should not be used to boost good sleeping behavior or regular sleeping habits in children. Insomnia or other sleeping disorders should be evaluated first in a child by medical professionals. According to health experts, melatonin should only be used when dealing with minimal sleeping problems. It can be given to improve early sleeping habits or to get more sleep.
A lower dose of melatonin contained in products for kids does not exist in the US market. Moreover, a study has not been done to verify its side effects and prolonged use in children. For children with developmental disorders like autism, melatonin should be issued upon examination by a medical professional.
Alterations in the release of melatonin within the body are the major cause of delayed sleep in pubescents and young people, which is delayed by 3-6 hours, unlike for normal bedtime between 9 pm to 11 pm. Before sleeping, children should be kept free of electronic gadgets that can break their sleeping habits. Such practice should be done one hour before sleeping to both pubescents and children.
The following are common secondary effects of melatonin on children:
- Morning drowsiness
- Bed wetting
- Increased risk of seizures for children with neurological disorders
Some supplements can interfere with melatonin or increase potential risks. If your child has an underlying medical disorder, other health concerns, or an upcoming surgery, it is very important that you inform your child's pediatrician beforehand.
Is melatonin safe?
Generally, short-term use of melatonin is considered safe but may have side effects, such as headaches, dizziness, and grogginess, posing risk on drivers. Other side effects could be an interference with blood pressure and blood thinning medications.
Safe Keeping of Melatonin
- Keep out of reach of children.
- Keep away from moisture and at room temperature, as directed.
- Properly dispose of used, unused, or expired supplements.