Too often, especially in the western world, we tend to rely far too heavily on supplements and medications to help us sleep. Melatonin is a hormone that the body produces naturally, and it plays a vital role in the sleep cycle. Hence, it may appear to make sense that a melatonin supplement would be the solution for sleeplessness.
However, some new data shows that melatonin supplements could be stopping you from sleeping.
What is melatonin?
Melatonin is a hormone that the body naturally produces. It is most notable for its role in the sleep cycle. It’s produced by the pineal gland, which is tiny and mostly described as “pea-sized” and can be found just above the middle of the brain. The body typically increases the production of melatonin at night. Once the sun sets, the levels of melatonin in the body increase.
In the morning, levels of melatonin drop significantly in order to signal to the body that it is time to wake up. It’s also influenced by how much light you get during the day and your sleep cycle. In some cases, trouble sleeping is linked to low melatonin levels. In simple terms, melatonin is directly affected by light. Light inhibits melatonin production and darkness stimulates it.
And melatonin supplements?
Usually found in pill or liquid form. Most of the time, it is synthetically made in a lab, but some options are natural. Natural melatonin supplements come from the pineal glands of animals. Taking it in liquid form or in a pill that can be sucked is a more efficient way to get melatonin into the body. This is because absorption is quicker.
If you do take it, It’s best to take the synthetic form of melatonin because the natural form can contain viruses.
If you aren’t getting enough sleep, it is affecting your longevity
Whether you notice it immediately or not, a sustained lack of sleep is doing far more than just making you feel groggy and overtired.
According to research from the Sleep Foundation, a massive 90% of people who suffer from insomnia also have another health condition. Not only are you likely to feel grumpy and struggle with focus, it also impairs judgment, decreases sex drive, causes depression, and even ages your skin. Though you might not notice it immediately, it will begin to show itself in all areas of your life.
Why good sleep and enough of it is vital
Without good quality and sufficient amounts of sleep, the body will suffer. Yes, it may seem like you’re doing fine even when you’re operating on a few hours of sleep. However, the reality is that your body is under extreme duress, and in the long term, not getting enough sleep can be extremely harmful as far as health goes. When it comes to chronic lack of sleep, the ramifications are extreme and very dangerous.
Chronic lack of sleep could lead to:
- Heart disease
- Weight gain
- Heart attack
- Irregular heartbeat
- High blood pressure
- Heart failure
How much sleep do you need to be getting?
Though how much sleep your body needs does vary from person to person, the National Sleep Foundation advises between 7 and 9 hours of sleep per night for adults. Younger children, teenagers, and babies require, on average, more sleep in order to sustain growth and development.
Whilst you might well be getting enough sleep to function, there is quite a big difference between acceptable and optimal amounts of sleep. Most of us can function on minimal sleep for a short amount of time, but it really isn’t a good idea. This is especially true in the long run.
Why melatonin might just be affecting your sleep schedule negatively
It’s important to remember that, as with any supplement, you need to be careful. This is especially true when supplementing with hormones. Melatonin of course is a hormone and a pretty potent one at that. Family Medicine Physician Robert Rountree, M.D. notes that it provides “a specific signal to the brain that it is time to initiate the sleep process”. However, melatonin isn’t actually good when it comes to maintaining sleep. Seema Bonney, M.D. explained to MindBodyGreen that “using any hormone regularly can down-regulate your own production of that hormone”.
This essentially means that your body won’t be able to produce adequate amounts of melatonin on its own. This leaves you in a vicious cycle. Even worse, if you do opt to take a melatonin supplement, but take it too close to bed, it could have a dramatic effect on your ability to sleep through the night. Ultimately, this leads to disturbed and poor quality sleep.
What should you do instead of relying on supplements?
Instead of opting for possibly harmful supplements, it’s best to try to include some of these ‘sleep hacks’ in your routine.
- Increase your exposure to sunlight during the day to help regulate circadian rhythm
- Reduce blue light exposure in the evening
- Don’t consume caffeinated beverages in the late afternoon and evening
- Avoid long daytime naps
- Aim to go to sleep and wake up at the same time every day
- Avoid alcohol or reduce alcohol consumption
- Make sure your bedroom is at a comfortable temperature
- Avoid eating late in the evening
- Use relaxation techniques such as meditation to prepare for sleep
- Take a relaxing bath or shower
- Exercise regularly (but not just before bed)
- Reduce your fluid intake just before bed
Want to take a supplement?
If you still feel like you need assistance in falling asleep, it’s best to opt for a hormone-free supplement. Adding magnesium to your routine could substantially aid the body in getting good quality sleep. Magnesium is an “essential macro-mineral, supports our circadian rhythm and is clinically shown to soothe the mind and body to “promote relaxation and sleep“.
Taking the amino acid glycine could also be of benefit, as research has shown that it enhances sleep quality and neurological function. Finally, certain CBD products can help you sleep. You will need to research these to ensure the correct choice.