Each of us has an internal master clock that regularly and carefully coordinates the biological responses in our body. This master clock is also called our circadian clock. Our circadian clock controls the 24-hour cycle that regulates essential functions such as our sleep/wake cycle. When your circadian clock, or your natural biological rhythms, are disturbed for any number of reasons (such as too much caffeine consumption or too much blue light exposure), sleep disorders may develop.
How does our natural hormone melatonin relate to our circadian clock? Our biological functions work together to produce and use melatonin.
Let’s explore what you need to know about melatonin!
What Is Melatonin?
Melatonin is critical to the sleep onset process since the number one effect of melatonin is that it makes you feel sleepy.
The natural hormone melatonin is produced within the body when we are exposed to darkness. Therefore, the brighter the day gets, the less melatonin our body makes. Conversely, the darker the day gets, the more melatonin our body creates—which signals to our brain that it’s time to go to sleep. Our melatonin production grows when our bodies are exposed to darkness; this period is considered our biological night.
How Does Melatonin Work?
Usually two or three hours before you go to sleep, your pineal gland—a pea-sized mass of tissue behind the third ventricle of your brain—is triggered by your circadian clock to start secreting melatonin. From there, the melatonin receptors located in organs throughout your body quickly get the message that it’s nighttime and time to start getting sleepy.
How does our natural melatonin production relate to a melatonin supplement? The purpose of a melatonin supplement is to simulate what naturally occurs in your body when it produces melatonin. Melatonin allows your body to start “winding down” and preparing for sweet dreams.
Are Melatonin Supplements Safe?
According to Leslie Swanson of Michigan’s Sleep and Circadian Research Laboratory, “If taken at the appropriate time and dosage, melatonin is great for jet lag and helping night owls to fall asleep earlier.”
Specifically, synthetic melatonin is considered to be a better alternative to prescription sleep aids because they are more gentle and have fewer side effects than prescription medications.
While side effects are uncommon for short-term use, some people may experience:
- Daytime Drowsiness, Dizziness, Weakness, or Confusion
- Vivid Dreams or Nightmares
- Feeling Depressed, Anxious, or Irritable
- Loss of Appetite, Diarrhea, Nausea, or Stomach Pain
- Blood Pressure Changes
- Joint or Back Pain
- Elevated Risk of Seizures
How Much Melatonin Should I Take?
It is recommended to take the lowest amount or dose of melatonin that still gives you results. Generally speaking, healthy adults may take 0.3 to 5 mg of melatonin within 60 to 90 minutes of planning to fall asleep. The United States is one of the few countries where melatonin does not require a prescription, but talking to your doctor before taking melatonin is always recommended.
Melatonin Dose Chart for Adults
The optimal dosage can differ depending on your needs and your reason for taking the melatonin supplement.
|Insomnia||2 to 3 mg 60 to 90 Minutes Before Bed||Up to 29 Weeks|
|Sleep Problems Related to Sleep/Wake Cycle Disturbances||2 to 12 mg 60 to 90 Minutes Before Bed||Up to 4 Weeks|
|Trouble Falling Asleep||0.3 to 5 mg 60 to 90 Minutes Before Bed||Up to 9 Months|
|Sleep Disorders in Blind People||0.5 to 5 mg 60 to 90 Minutes Before Bed||Up to 6 Years|
|Jet Lag||0.5 to 8 mg 60 to 90 Minutes Before Bedtime on the Day of Arrival||Continue for 2 to 5 Days|
The chart is provided by WebMD.
Can You Overdose?
Melatonin is considered to be safe for short-term use with a low risk of overdose. Nonetheless, if you suspect an overdose, seek emergency medical attention or call the Poison Helpline at 1-800-222-1222.
How Long Does It Take for Melatonin to Work?
After taking your dose of the melatonin supplement, it takes approximately 30 minutes for it to start signaling to your body that it is biological night and time to start getting sleepy.
How Long Does Melatonin Last?
Melatonin typically stays in the body for approximately five hours, which helps you work towards getting your recommended hours of sleep based on your age.
Melatonin supplements mimic your natural production of the hormone, melatonin. While melatonin has many benefits as a natural sleep aid, it’s important to discuss any supplement changes with your doctor. Share your melatonin experience with us below.
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