How To Use Melatonin For Sleep

September 03, 2017 |

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Many people have heard about taking melatonin for sleep but are unsure how. A melatonin sleep aid is designed to help you regulate your circadian rhythm or internal sleep cycle. Your circadian rhythm is relatively easy to throw off. Staying up late, eating the wrong foods, and traveling across a different time zone will do it.

Supplementing with melatonin can help regulate your system by telling your brain when it’s time to go to sleep and when it’s time to wake up. If your sleep cycle has been thrown off and you can’t seem to get it back on track, try using a melatonin supplement. Here’s how.

Melatonin Quick Facts

  • Melatonin is a hormone produced in the brain that makes you feel sleepy.
  • It works together with the neurotransmitter serotonin and the amino acid tryptophan to help you fall asleep.
  • Exposure to light is the biggest determining factor in melatonin production. When it’s dark out, melatonin is produced to help you feel sleepy. Your brain stops making melatonin with exposure to light. Daytime levels of melatonin are so low that it’s hard to measure them. This is so you don't feel tired throughout the day.
  • Your sleep cycle can be disrupted by jet lag and poor sleep habits.
  • Alcohol, caffeine, and tobacco can all lower the amount of melatonin in the body.
  • Your melatonin levels peak as a child and decrease with age, which is why many people have trouble sleeping as they get older.
  • Exposure to blue light or light from computers and electronics at night can keep you awake.
  • Keeping your room dark and finding healthy ways to manage stress can help you fall asleep by regulating melatonin production.

The Relationship Between Melatonin and Sleep

Melatonin is a hormone produced in the pineal gland of the brain. It is responsible for making you feel sleepy. The pineal gland is about the size of a pea and is located above the optic nerves in the middle of the brain. The production of melatonin is regulated by your exposure to light and darkness. It is needed to maintain the body’s circadian rhythm, which is your body’s own personal 24-hour internal clock. It tells you when to fall asleep and when to wake up.

When it’s dark at night, your optic nerves send a signal to the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) located in the hypothalamus telling it that it must be time to go to sleep. The SCN tells the pineal gland to start producing melatonin. It is then released into the bloodstream to make you sleepy. On the other hand, when your optic nerves sense that it’s light out, it tells the SCN not to activate the pineal gland’s production of melatonin so you can stay awake.

During the day, your melatonin levels are barely measurable so you can get on with your day. This is why night shift workers and people who are blind may experience trouble sleeping. Exposure to bright lights in the evening can disrupt your melatonin levels and throw off your circadian rhythm.

Your pineal gland usually begins making melatonin around 9 pm. Levels increase until you start to feel tired. In most healthy adults, your pineal gland produces melatonin for 12 hours while you remain asleep. Production decreases around 9 am, and your levels remain barely detectable throughout the day (1). Your melatonin levels peak when you are a child and drop as you age, which may explain why older people have trouble sleeping (2).

melatonin for sleep

Health Benefits of Melatonin

The health benefits of melatonin don’t stop at improving your sleep habits and regulating your circadian rhythm. Melatonin has also been shown to prevent cancer, assist with heart health, and boost the immune system. Here are some proven benefits of melatonin:

1. Melatonin is a proven natural sleep aid. 

Most people turn to prescription medications to help improve their sleeping problems, but melatonin might be just as effective. Research supports using melatonin as a natural sleep aid to repair dysfunctional circadian rhythms. Melatonin also appears to be safer and does not cause as many unwanted side effects as some prescription medications. Supplementing with melatonin has been shown to improve the sleep quality in people with low melatonin levels, such as individuals with schizophrenia.  

According to a 2012 study published in Drugs and Aging, patients who were given two milligrams of melatonin one to two hours before going to bed saw significant improvements in their sleep. Results showed that when compared to the placebo group, people who took melatonin had better sleep quality and length as well as improved alertness in the morning. They also reported having improved quality of life due to sleeping better at night. Finally, the study found that no matter how long the subjects took the melatonin, there were no issues with dependence, rebound insomnia, withdrawal symptoms or tolerance. In other words, melatonin is safe to use and will not lose its effectiveness over time (3).

2. Melatonin can be used as a cancer treatment.

Research shows that low melatonin levels are linked to breast cancer. A 2014 study investigated melatonin’s tumor inhibiting abilities by using human cancer cells in mice. Results demonstrated that melatonin stopped tumor production and cell growth. It also prevented the formation of new blood vessels from growing in breast cancer models (4).

Another study found that a group of women with breast cancer did not see improvements while on the chemotherapy drug tamoxifen. Researchers then added melatonin to the women’s treatment. Results showed that more than 28 percent of women saw a reduction in the size of their tumors after adding melatonin to their treatment plan (5).

Men with prostate cancer may also benefit from melatonin. According to a study published in Oncology Reports, melatonin prevented the growth of new prostate cancer cells (6).

3. Melatonin may improve heart health.

Research shows that melatonin has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects that may enhance heart health. According to a 2012 study, melatonin can help lower cholesterol and blood pressure. It also protects the heart by neutralizing free radicals. Results of the study showed that melatonin might be able to prevent and treat cardiovascular disease (7).

4. Melatonin is an immune system booster.

Melatonin has antioxidant abilities that may help boost the immune system and fight disease. According to a 2013 study, melatonin is an immune buffer because it aids in the inflammatory response in the case of acute inflammation. It also acts as a stimulant in immunosuppressive conditions. In other words, melatonin stimulates the immune system when harmful pathogens try to prevent it from working properly (8).

5. Melatonin improves jet lag.

Jet lag is a condition that occurs when you travel across several time zones and throw off your circadian rhythm. Supplementing with melatonin may help you adjust to your new time zone by helping you get sleepy when it’s time to rest.

According to a systematic review, melatonin was described as being remarkably useful for reducing and preventing jet lag. It was also found to be perfectly safe to use. Researchers found subjects in nine out of ten studies who used melatonin decreased the severity of their jet lag after crossing at least five time zones. Results showed that although 0.5 mg of melatonin was enough for some people, subjects fell asleep faster and had a better sleep when taking larger amounts of 5 mg (9).

The study found that the timing of the melatonin was essential. It if it was taken too early, it delayed adaptation to the new time zone.

6. Melatonin may help improve autism in children.

Melatonin may be able to assist with developmental problems such as autism. A 2011 report published in Developmental Medicine and Child Neurology investigated the results of melatonin on children with autism spectrum disorders in 35 studies. The researchers concluded that melatonin supplementation might improve the sleep of children with autism, which leads to improved daytime behavior. Melatonin was also found to have few side effects and was safe for children to take (10).

7. Melatonin reduces stress and slows down the aging process.

Stress is one of the main reasons why many people cannot sleep. They stay up late worrying about what they need to do the next day. When you feel stressed, your melatonin levels suffer. During increased periods of stress, melatonin levels decrease at night and increase during the day due to the presence of the stress hormone cortisol. Taking melatonin at night might be able to help regulate your sleep levels when you’re stressed.

Melatonin supplementation may also help promote feelings of calmness when you’re stressed. It has been shown to ease daytime fatigue, restlessness, drowsiness, and insomnia by improving brain function (11). Because of its high antioxidant content, melatonin can help slow down or reverse the aging process to give you younger looking skin (12).

8. Melatonin helps improve menopausal symptoms.

Supplementing with melatonin may be able to help improve sleep related problems due to menopause. One study found that menopausal and premenopausal women between the ages of 42 and 62 who took melatonin saw improvements in their mood and depression levels, which have been shown to impact sleep negatively. The study found that supplementing with melatonin helps menopausal and premenopausal women recovery from thyroid and pituitary dysfunction to help make them feel younger (13).

Tips For Taking Melatonin To Regulate Your Sleep Cycle

Melatonin can help regulate your sleep cycle by providing a gentle guiding hand to your circadian rhythm when it gets off track. Just about anything can throw off your sleep cycle, including staying up late, eating the wrong foods, or not having a healthy outlet for stress.

Many people choose to supplement with melatonin over prescription medications because of its proven benefits with fewer side effects. Here are some tips for taking melatonin to regulate your sleep cycle.

1. Find the right dosage for you.

There is no daily recommended amount of melatonin. Many people find that a small amount works for them while others claim that larger amounts work better. Many melatonin supplements contain between three and six grams of melatonin. Find the right amount for you by experimenting with your dosage. If you notice that you wake up in the middle of the night to take more, your dosage might be too low. On the other hand, if you wake up drowsy, your dosage is probably too high.

2. Take melatonin 30 minutes to two hours before bed.

Taking melatonin too early in the day may send mixed signals to your brain regarding when you want it to fall asleep. The best time to take your melatonin supplement is 30 minutes to two hours before bed. It may also help to prepare your room for sleep by making it dark and putting away all electronic devices. When you lay down after taking your melatonin supplement, you should feel completely relaxed, and your sleep environment should reflect that.

3. Take melatonin at night and then meditate.

Melatonin is a sleep hormone released at night when it’s dark, so that’s the best time to take it if you want to get your system back on track. To further enhance melatonin’s effectiveness, try doing something relaxing at night right after you take your supplement, such as meditation.

Meditation is an excellent way to manage stress that might otherwise keep you awake at night. It’s free and can be done almost anywhere. Research shows that meditation enhances melatonin production by stimulating the pineal gland. One study found that people who meditate have significantly higher levels of melatonin in the body than people who do not (14). Another study found that individuals who meditate have as much as 98 percent more melatonin than those who don’t (14).

On its own, melatonin is extremely effective at regulating your sleep cycle. It has been shown to improve insomnia, ease jet lag and reduce stress. Melatonin can also be used for its antioxidant properties to treat certain cancers, slow down the aging process and boost the immune system. It may take awhile to determine the right amount for you, but melatonin is safe enough to experiment with.

Timing is critical. Make sure you take your melatonin supplement right before going to bed. If you take it too early, there’s a chance it won’t work. Making your bedroom dark and meditating for a few minutes before crawling under the covers may help boost melatonin production naturally.