Does Melatonin Actually Help You Sleep?
5 min read
by Toni Brannagan | July 03, 2019
I’m not sure when I first started hearing about people taking melatonin to sleep, but all I know was that everyone else was doing it and I wanted in. (Say no to peer pressure, kids.)
Like a YA romance, my insomnia began slowly, and then all at once. It started shortly after my 23rd birthday — maybe around November 8, 2016 but idk why. No matter what I tried, no amount of limited blue light or meditation app subscriptions was helping me catch the ZZZs I needed.
At the risk of sounding like an advertisement, when I finally tried melatonin after the 50th friend recommended it to me (and after asking my doctor whether I would die, of course), I was amazed by how well it worked. So amazed that *I* became one of those people who walks around trying to convince people to start taking melatonin like a former Bachelor contestant peddling Sugarbearhair. However, during the time I spent spreading the #truth about melatonin, I noticed that it had some pretty mixed reviews (especially when it came to dosage) and I realized I didn’t really know what I was talking about.
It’s never a good idea to start taking any sort of medicine or supplements without checking in with your medical provider, or knowing what you’re taking to begin with. So let’s start with the basics.
what is melatonin?
The hormone melatonin is naturally produced in your pineal gland, which is just above the middle of your brain. It’s basically the opposite of solar-powered — the pineal gland is inactive during the day, but when the sun goes down it starts to produce melatonin, which encourages you to go to sleep. This usually lasts about 12 hours (through the night) so by morning, your melatonin levels fall back down.
Even bright artificial light is enough to suppress the release of melatonin, which is why we don’t typically sleep well with lights on either. This is also the explanation for “jet lag” when you travel to a different time zone — your body’s cycle of sleep and waking is disrupted, and your brain might be a little confused about when it’s supposed to be producing melatonin or not.
how does taking extra melatonin help with sleep?
Of course, all sorts of other factors contribute to the quality of your sleep, including anxiety, depression, diet, medical conditions, and more, which is why artificially producing melatonin may seem appealing.
If you followed how your body naturally produces melatonin, it only makes sense that it’ll help get the job done if you give your body extra when it’s time to go to sleep.
Typically, melatonin supplements will start mimicking the effects of the hormone your pineal gland is producing 30 minutes after you ingest it.
soooo, how do you take melatonin properly?
First of all, make sure you’re buying actual melatonin — sticking with a pharmacy is the safest.
Depending on whether you’re taking melatonin because you’re jet-lagged, work a night shift, or just a plain ole’ insomniac, your doctor can help you figure out the proper dosage and best time to take the supplement.
If you’re in your normal time zone, and just trying to sleep when it’s bedtime (ie. night), check out the dosage on your bottle. Even if they recommend higher, it’s a good idea to start small, with 1-3 mgs, and see if that works for you. In general, you should only take melatonin when you’re having trouble sleeping, and not every day anyway.
Remember, *every body* reacts to supplements differently, and melatonin is no different. Especially since sleep cycles are so personal, and contingent on many things besides melatonin production. When it comes down to it, the same dosage of melatonin might not affect you in the same way it affects your friend — if the melatonin isn’t helping you catch some ZZZs after a week of use, you should stop taking it.
This isn’t to say that you can’t up the odds of your success. You should still be doing the normal recommended things to prepare for sleep. (Ex. Turn off the lights, put down your phone, no caffeine, etc.)
Like I said earlier, it’s best to check in with your doctor before you try it out, especially if you take blood thinners, blood pressure medication, or antidepressants. It’s definitely important to keep track of any side effects you might be experiencing—those can include daytime sleepiness, dizziness, nausea, or headaches—and discontinuing use if they persist.
Have you ever taken melatonin as a sleep aid? Do you have any other miracle cures for those nights spent counting sheep? Share with us in the comments.
by Toni Brannagan