Melatonin is a vital hormone that regulates our internal rhythms: when we wake up, what time we go to sleep, and when we feel tired. Having too little melatonin can negatively influence health, but having too much is not ideal either. Sometimes this balance must be reached with melatonin supplements, but the body creates this hormone naturally, too.
The Body Produces Melatonin Naturally
Even though pharmacies sell melatonin as a supplement, the body naturally produces a certain amount, as well. In a healthy body, this is the amount a person needs to regulate their sleep-wake cycle and other related processes properly. A small gland in the brain — the pineal gland — produces this hormone. If melatonin production becomes impaired for any reason, a person will likely find it difficult to fall asleep. That’s where melatonin supplements can come in handy, allowing one to get a better night’s sleep in a more natural way than sleeping pills.
Melatonin Doesn’t Improve Sleep Quality
It is important to understand that melatonin supplements can help alleviate symptoms of insomnia by helping an individual fall asleep more quickly, rather than tossing and turning after they go to bed. However, melatonin does not improve the quality of sleep once a person reaches this state. For this reason, medical professionals consider melatonin supplements a temporary remedy to be used in moderation. If used excessively, melatonin can even have detrimental effects on sleep quality. People who struggle with getting good sleep, as opposed to getting to sleep, should explore other options.
Light Levels Can Affect Melatonin Effectiveness
The effectiveness of melatonin supplements can vary based on the amount and type of light in a person’s sleeping or pre-sleep environment — their bedroom or living room. The brain regulates the release of melatonin based on exposure to different kinds of light. When an environment has more light, the brain assumes it is daytime and produces less melatonin. Darkness encourages production because the brain interprets this as night. This is why some people who use their screen devices late into the night can have difficulty falling asleep — the body has insufficient melatonin because the brain misinterpreted this light.
Blue Light Makes Sleeping Difficult
In addition to the amount of light before bed, the wavelength or color of the light also influences the effectiveness of melatonin. Red light, which is of relatively low intensity, can help stimulate melatonin production. Blue light, on the other hand, is of higher intensity and can inhibit the beneficial effects of melatonin. In addition to sunlight, blue light emits from televisions, computer screens, and cell phones. It causes a decrease in melatonin production, making it harder to fall asleep. For this reason, experts recommend staying off screens for at least half an hour to as much as two hours before bedtime or using blue light-blocking glasses after sunset.
Melatonin Affects Cortisol Levels
Cortisol is another important hormone, which regulates bodily functions such as stress levels. Modern science notes a significant inverse relationship between the production of cortisol and melatonin. Cortisol levels are naturally higher when a person wakes up. Melatonin levels, on the other hand, lower to ease the body out of sleep. If melatonin levels are impaired, then the amount of cortisol in the body can go out of balance, causing higher stress and other unpleasant symptoms.
Melatonin Regulates Periods
A plethora of different chemicals and hormones play a role in the female reproductive system, and melatonin is one of them. Melatonin helps regulate the menstrual cycle, and too much or too little of this hormone can affect the frequency, duration, and heaviness of a period.
A Popular Supplement
Even though melatonin is produced naturally by the body, sometimes a medical issue or other factors can interfere with this production, resulting in an insufficient quantity of the hormone and interruption in its many processes. One such factor can be people who work irregular hours or night shifts who, by nature of their job, sleep at inconsistent hours or hours our body is naturally predisposed to be awake. People who travel overseas and move through multiple time zones quickly may develop jet lag. Melatonin supplements help manage jet lag and reset the normal sleep-wake cycle. Lack of melatonin can also be a symptom in people with insomnia caused by issues beyond hormone production, and melatonin production also decreases naturally as we age. Any of these or other reasons may lead a person to try melatonin supplements as a sleep aid, and it is important they discuss dosages with a doctor before doing so.
Downsides of Taking Melatonin
In recent years, the use of melatonin as a natural supplement has skyrocketed. This rise in popularity could be due to the hormone’s ability to help us overcome nature and control our routines. People today are busy at all hours and an edict such as eliminating screen time before bed can seem impossible in a global workforce where deadlines and meetings loom at any time. Physical and mental stress can make getting a good night’s rest seem next to impossible and melatonin can help. Taking too much, however, can be detrimental because the body may stop producing melatonin naturally as it comes to relying on the supplement.
Melatonin May Help with Autism
Some research suggests melatonin can help individuals with developmental disabilities such as autism and ADHD. While melatonin won’t cure these conditions, improving sleep can help ease many symptoms made worse when the body is poorly rested. Many children with autism experience insomnia, which often leaves them feeling drowsy and upset, and can interfere with cognitive performance. It is vital to speak to a doctor before beginning to administer melatonin to anyone with a mental health condition.
Melatonin Works Better with a Good Sleeping Schedule
If you take melatonin, you’ve probably noticed that it can help you fall asleep faster. But did you know that there are steps you can take to increase the efficacy of melatonin, perhaps even to the point of not requiring supplements? Keeping a rigid sleeping schedule and going to bed around 10 pm can increase the amount of melatonin the body creates naturally. Melatonin production increases a few hours before going to bed, so a nighttime routine lets the body know when it is time to start increasing melatonin.