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Melatonin and Sleep: How Does Melatonin Work?

Anyone who has read articles about sleep disorders, poor sleep, natural sleep aids, or trouble falling asleep has likely come across the term melatonin. 

Taking melatonin supplements is one route people have pursued in their quest of getting more restorative rest. But that leads to questions for some people, such as: Is melatonin safe? Is melatonin a hormone? Does melatonin work? How long does melatonin take to work?

We’ll answer these questions and shed some light on all the key facts about using melatonin for sleep.


What Is Melatonin? 

Melatonin is a naturally occurring hormone secreted by your body to help regulate the important wake-sleep cycle, which is also known as your biological clock. While melatonin does occur naturally, it is also produced synthetically. In some countries, such as the United States, you can buy it over-the-counter, which means without a prescription, as a dietary supplement.

What is melatonin used for as a dietary supplement? Some people turn to it to help them sleep better at night. 


Melatonin and Sleep


While melatonin won’t put you to sleep the same way that a sleeping pill would, it can set the stage for sleep by encouraging a sort of quiet wakefulness. It’s a signal to your body that time for sleep is nearing. 

Pinpointing exactly what melatonin’s role in sleep is has long been studied by researchers. Currently, the research shows there appears to be a link between melatonin and improved sleep-wake cycles. 

It may not be smart to rely on a melatonin supplement every night for better sleep. But if you’re experiencing a bout of sleeping problems or suffering from jet lag, it might be okay to try short term, if your doctor clears it. 

Are you wondering about the melatonin for sleep dosage? A dose that’s typical for people who take it is anywhere from one to three milligrams about two hours before your normal bedtime. Those new to the supplement should take the smaller dose so they can watch for any melatonin side effects. Your doctor will be able to recommend the correct dosage for you.

If it doesn’t improve sleep in a few nights of use, it makes no sense to continue taking it. 


Is It Safe to Take Melatonin Supplements?


There are certain people who shouldn’t take melatonin, according to the experts. Pregnant women, women who are breastfeeding, people with depression, or anyone with autoimmune or seizure disorders should not take it. 

Other people, especially if they have underlying diseases like high blood pressure or diabetes, should consult with their doctor before trying melatonin. It’s always good practice to check with your doctor before taking supplements.

In some areas of the world, melatonin is harder to get anyway, without a doctor’s note. In the UK, you won’t see melatonin over-the-counter anymore. Why is melatonin banned in the UK? Melatonin used to be widely available in the UK without a prescription. But it was eventually reclassified as a medicine and is only available through prescription as a sleep aide to a small subset of people who have a sleeping disorder. 


Who Would Benefit the Most from Taking Melatonin?

People who have limited sleeping issues, like trying to adjust to a change in your sleeping routine while traveling may find melatonin useful. Those with longer-term issues may also benefit.

Before turning to supplements, though, it can be useful to try other things to fall asleep more easily. Make your bedroom surroundings as comfortable as possible with products like cooling bedding sheets and a eucalyptus eye mask

Some evidence shows that people who suffer from the winter blues, also known as seasonal depression, may show some improvement from taking melatonin. Some studies have also shown melatonin might help with eye conditions and gastroesophageal reflux. But, by far, the most popular use is as a sleep aid.  


Ways to Boost Your Natural Melatonin Production

Those who are struggling to sleep don’t necessarily have to resort to supplements. They can take steps to naturally boost their melatonin. 

People should get more sunlight during the day to stimulate their melatonin, and they should limit how much light they get from electronics at night. The best time to get sunlight to regulate your circadian rhythm is in the morning. 

At night, the blue light from your electronics can be tricking your body into thinking that it’s daytime and that you don’t need to sleep. So, that light when you check emails may be waking you up. 

You can also cut the amount of light in your bedroom, especially if you are a shift worker. The darkness will help trigger your melatonin.

If you’re not big into supplements, you can always eat your way to more melatonin. For lunch or dinner, several hours before bed, you can eat foods that contain melatonin. Some great choices are walnuts, barley, rolled oats, olives, cucumbers, and corn. 

A warm bath might also be a great idea. It can help decrease your stress levels, which may increase your melatonin production. A warm bath might help you feel sleepier even if it doesn’t result in more melatonin.

If you’re a coffee, soda, or tea drinker, don’t drink it after 3 p.m. or so. Caffeine seems to interfere somewhat with the production of melatonin. 

Those who are more sedentary should strive to get more exercise. It’s known to increase the level of melatonin. But pay attention to what time of the day you exercise. If you do it too late in the evening, you might be disrupting your sleep. It can be better to do it earlier in the day. 

Tired of Poor Sleep?

While some people may benefit from taking a melatonin supplement, it’s not a cure-all for poor sleep habits or a bad lifestyle. Before turning to a supplement, you might want to change your routine, exercise habits, and diet to see if you can sleep better.

With some mindfulness, you might improve the quality of your sleep without popping a pill. If you decide to give a melatonin supplement a try, always check with a doctor first.