Sleep is so important that it’s no wonder people are constantly seeking easy ways to improve the quality and quantity they get. One of the things some people consider turning to is melatonin. But people who aren’t fans of taking sleep medicines with potentially harmful side effects may wonder: Is melatonin natural?
Melatonin is a hormone that helps regulate a person’s sleep-wake cycle. Naturally produced by the body, melatonin production ramps up at night and decreases when it’s light outside. Some people try to assist their natural body processes by taking a melatonin supplement.
Does melatonin help you sleep? Or does it have little effect on the amount of shut-eye you get? We’ll look at the benefits of melatonin and any drawbacks.
Insomnia Is a Big Health Challenge
Insomnia is real and it’s affecting our health. Approximately one in three people in the UK suffer from this condition. And for older adults, it’s even more prevalent because natural melatonin production decreases with age.
Sleep problems or sleep disorders can affect everything about a person’s life. It can make them cranky and unpleasant to be around, which impacts their relationships. Their health can also suffer as the result of improper immune system function. They may notice they easily get colds and minor viral illnesses instead of warding them off.
Sleep deficiency may also lead to health issues like heart disease, diabetes, stroke, obesity, and kidney disease. Those who are sleep deprived are also more likely to fall asleep while driving, running the risk of killing themselves or others during an accident.
Mental health can also take a hit from not getting enough sleep. People with insomnia may feel anxious or depressed -- feelings that might be alleviated if they were able to get a good night’s sleep.
How Melatonin Can Help You Sleep
Dietary supplements can have an impact on your overall health. Melatonin makes you sleepy so it’s a popular supplement.
What does melatonin do to help you sleep better? Here’s how it works: Taking melatonin can help better regulate your circadian rhythm, especially if you have low melatonin levels or if you do things, like shift work, that throw off your internal clock.
If you’re suffering from a sleep deficit, taking melatonin may protect you against negative health consequences like high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes, and more. Plus, you’ll feel and look better.
For the best results when taking melatonin, it’s a good idea to start by talking to your doctor before beginning with supplementation. Also, it’s smart to start with the lowest recommended dose and see how your body responds to that.
How Should You Take Melatonin?
If you’re given the green light from your doctor to try taking melatonin, the best time of day to take it is about an hour before you plan to go to bed. You don’t want to take it too early and risk getting daytime sleepiness, which is the main negative side effect of taking melatonin.
Start with a low dose -- many people opt for anywhere from .3 mg to 5 mg each night. If that low dose doesn’t seem to do much for you, you can gradually increase it, within reason, until you find a dose that works for you.
It’s a good idea to try taking it short term at first. After a few good nights of sleep, cut back the dosage or stop taking it to see if you are now able to fall asleep on your own.
Short-term usage is often enough to get people through the effects of a time zone change or jet lag. But people who have chronic insomnia may be better served by long term use.
Melatonin is not recommended for children, pregnant women, or moms who are breastfeeding their babies. There is not enough conclusive research to confirm it’s safe to use melatonin in these circumstances.
Getting Sleep Through More Natural Methods
If you don’t want to rely upon a supplement to get high-quality sleep, there are plenty of things you can do to encourage better shut-eye.
- Create a nightly stress-busting ritual: A few minutes of doing something that relaxes you before bed might help you unwind enough that your sleep improves. That could include having a non-caffeinated cup of warm tea, reading a chapter of a book, or taking a warm shower or bath an hour or two before bed.
- Make yourself comfy: The feel of your blankets against your skin, wearing comfortable pajamas, and using the proper neck support pillow can all help you rest better.
- Practice gratitude: Before trying to nod off, think about all the things that went right that day and about all the blessings you have in your life. That can help you fight any stress or anxiety that is keeping you up at night.
- Kill the lights: A room that is too bright will leave you struggling to sleep. If your room is bright or you have to sleep during the day, get blackout blinds or curtains. It also may be wise to invest in a eucalyptus eye mask.
- Mask annoying sounds: Little creaky sounds in your home and traffic noises outside can disturb your sleep. A white noise machine or a fan can help mask those sounds so you rest better.
- Perfect your room’s temperature: Most people sleep very poorly in a room that is too hot. But you also don’t want a room that feels excessively cold. Go for something in the range of 65 to 72 degrees Fahrenheit and you may get the best sleep of your life.
Keep Working Toward a Better Night
Some people have no trouble drifting off at night and getting a great night’s sleep. Others have to work at it a bit more. If you’ve tried to sleep naturally but still can’t seem to do it, there’s no shame in turning to a melatonin supplement. Just make sure your doctor signs off on it, and use the lowest effective dose.