“I’ll just take a melatonin” is the popular phrase I often hear when people have difficulty sleeping. Naturally produced in our brain and pineal gland in our eyes, melatonin is a hormone to aid in helping us fall asleep and helps to maintain our natural sleep/wake cycle. I
n the “old” days we would wake up with the rising sun and fall asleep after dark. Melatonin is actually produced in a dark environment while it decreases with light.
These days, we’re over caffeinated, we eat too much sugar and we stare at our phones or devices all night. The blue light from our phones has been shown to decrease our natural melatonin production and that doesn’t mention what we see on social media that keeps us alert.
As a result, it’s really easy to take a milligram or two of melatonin to throttle down. But is that the smartest idea consistently? What are the side effects of taking melatonin?
Melatonin supplements are a relatively safe supplement and contribute in multiple ways to improving the restorative value of sleep.After 3 weeks of use, subjects taking 2.5 mg’s of melatonin nightly increases total sleep time by 36 minutes and reduced how long it took them to get to sleep by 14 minutes. Pretty good stuff, if you’re following a smart nightly routine,not staring at your phone and not eating too late in the evening you're setting yourself up for success. (1)
What are the other benefits of melatonin?
In addition to improving sleep cycles and deep restorative sleep, melatonin also can increase immune system function. By increasing natural killer cells, melatonin helps to increase cellular immunity but it also enhances innate immunity which is the decrease of immune function with age. (2)
Melatonin also seems to have some benefit for managing depression. Melatonin has been shown to enhance brain neuroplasticity, the ability for your brain to learn new skills. When combined with the increased sleep volume, this appears to impact mood disorders. (3)
Can I take melatonin every night?
One pretty big study that examined all available melatonin studies on sleep found that were no adverse reactions to long term, consistent melatonin use. (4)
In my personal opinion, I wouldn’t take it nightly. I find that anytime you have to do something to get to sleep consistently, you need to check your habits. Are you staying on social media all night? Are you answering emails until late into the evening? What are you doing that is preventing you from getting to bed on your own?
Ultimately I use melatonin two or three nights per week. These are usually on days where I’m working late. Melatonin levels naturally peak about two hours before our general bedtime. So if you typically go to bed at 10:00 pm, you want to be off of your phone or devices by around 7:30 or 8:00 to allow the natural production of melatonin. I use 1 mg’s and I can see the benefit of going higher to 2 mg’s but anything other than that and there’s other issues that need to be addressed holistically to improve your sleep.