What is Melatonin?
It’s important to clearly define what melatonin is: it is a hormone. And it is equally important to know what melatonin is NOT: a vitamin or herbal supplement. Unlike other over the counter medications, it is not a natural supplement as many people often assume it is. The pineal gland within the brain produces this hormone and releases it into the bloodstream to regulate sleep cycles. The vast majority of humans are able to produce adequate amounts of melatonin independently.
Is artificial melatonin usage on the rise?
Yes, the reliance on melatonin is on the rise continuously in today’s world. Despite more and more health risks associated with its use, adults and children alike are using melatonin more regularly. According to a recent study published in the medical journal JAMA, Americans take more than twice the amount of melatonin they took a decade ago. In many cases, humans are taking more than twice the recommended dosage, too. The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic have been catastrophic on sleep. Sadly, experts fear that the level of crisis in the world has increased the overuse of sleep aids.
Is it safe?
Quite frankly, no one really knows if it is safe yet, and that is alarming! The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health shares that short-term and infrequent use of 5 milligrams of pharmaceutical grade melatonin for jet lag or trouble falling asleep does not appear to have very harmful effects. However, long-term use of melatonin in high doses is simply not studied thoroughly enough to determine the safety risks.
The US Food and Drug Administration does not regulate melatonin. Unfortunately, that means there are no federal requirements for companies to test their products. There is no governing body ensuring pills contain the correct amount of melatonin nor that they are pure. Thus, some pills on the market today have levels of melatonin that are much higher than advertised. Research has shown that unregulated melatonin supplements on the market have 83% to 478% of the amount on the label. Further, hidden additives, including serotonin, can be found in supplements.
Harvard Medical School’s experts in sleep medicine believe the development of dementia and early mortality can link to the use of sleep aids. Many adults are using melatonin in dangerous amounts, which increases headaches, nausea, disorientation, and depression. Too much melatonin can also lead to stomach cramps, dizziness, confusion, anxiety, and low blood pressure.
Do the benefits outweigh the risk?
In short, the answer is no. Although melatonin can be helpful in inducing sleep, the actual benefits on sleep onset are minor. Melatonin does not improve the length or quality of sleep in any way. For many people, it very insignificantly speeds up the time it takes to fall asleep. When consuming melatonin two hours prior to bedtime as recommended, sleep onset often improves by as little as 4-8 minutes. To most of us, that is just not worth it.
There are great sleep hygiene tips that can absolutely transform adults’ sleep. Yet, so many people are reluctant to make those changes because taking a quick pill sounds “easier.”
If melatonin isn’t the answer, what is?
The truth is, it’s possible to train your brain to sleep well. You can make changes that are both more effective than sleep aids and far better for you. Best of all, these research-backed practices are long-lasting.
If you’re asking for a great place to begin, the answer is with our devices. Our culture’s addiction to smart phones and screens contributes to our bodies blocking our own natural release of melatonin. Artificial and digital lights tell our body to slow or stop production of melatonin near bedtime. Blue light also suppresses the circadian drive. We should avoid phones, TVs, and laptops in the hour leading up to bedtime to fall asleep more effortlessly.
Implementing a relaxing bedtime routine and establishing a regular sleep schedule are also great steps to take to improve your sleep long-term. One of the easiest changes you can make for more ideal sleep is to drop the temperature in your bedroom! If you need assistance making important changes to your sleep, check out our adult sleep solutions! Our goal is to help adults regain control of their sleep with small, sustainable changes week by week — without the use of medications.
You matter. Your sleep matters. Our goal is that everyone can embrace some adjustments to enjoy significantly improved sleep. Great sleep is a necessity that you deserve! In fact, sleep should come so easily to you that you don’t have to think about it. Without a doubt, you shouldn’t have to have melatonin on your grocery list to make it happen!