No one ever complained about a restful night. Not only does that sweet slumber battle daytime drowsiness and avoid us having to hit the coffee pot an extra time (or two), but next to the other pillars of good health we all know: staying hydrated, getting exercise, and maintaining a well-balanced diet, getting adequate sleep is crucial for our health and well-being.
If you’ve ever had trouble capturing those elusive ZZZ’s, taking melatonin or other sleep aids may have crossed your mind. Before you spend another moment tossing and turning, wondering how and when melatonin supplementation may help, here is some information and tips.
What is Melatonin?
You likely already know melatonin as the “sleepy-time” hormone, but did you know it’s naturally produced and released by the pineal gland in our brains?1
Melatonin helps regulate our circadian rhythms - the 24-hour internal clock we all have - and helps align our sleep-wake cycle with night and day.1,2 The natural rise and fall of our body’s melatonin drive this cycle. As evening approaches and darkness settles in, our melatonin levels rise. This increase in melatonin signals its bedtime and helps us fall asleep.
How Does Melatonin Production Get Disrupted?
We know we want elevated and sustained levels of melatonin to help us get to sleep and stay in that restful state. Turns out, there are factors in and out of our control that may lead to disruption of melatonin production.
The link between light exposure and dipping melatonin levels isn’t limited to the sun. Light in general is disruptive to sleep, and that’s biological. While the release of melatonin is brought on by darkness, the opposite is also true: melatonin release is suppressed by light1, and that light exposure goes for devices like your phone and computer as well. The blue light emitted from smart devices suppresses melatonin more than other types of light.3 That’s why using your smart devices at night can have a negative effect on getting enough shut-eye.
Jet lag, and fluctuating work and sleep schedules can disrupt the natural rhythm of melatonin and throw off the sleep-wake cycle.1,2
One factor related to melatonin production that we don’t have much control over is aging. As we age, our bodies naturally produce less melatonin, leading to more disruptions to our normal sleep patterns.2
Sleep Hygiene Matters
So, you’re not finding it so easy to drift off, and you don’t feel rested. We’ve all been there at some time or another.
Sleep hygiene can play a part. If you’re new to the term, think of it simply as applying proven methods to promote restful sleep that boil down to three main things: create consistent routines, develop good habits and control your environment.4
Bedtime Best Practices
Most of us already have some semblance of a bedtime routine, whether we intentionally plan it out or not. The trick is to develop a heathy routine and practice it until it becomes second nature.
Here are some tips for restful sleep hygiene:4
Make your bedtime routine consistent: Follow the same steps at the same time every night to prime your brain and body for bedtime (ex. shower & brush teeth, read & meditate to de-stress).
Create a fixed sleep schedule: Avoid the temptation to stay up late and sleep in on weekends – try to wake up around the same time every day.
Create daily habits that set you up for optimal sleep: Get outside and be active, don’t smoke, and cut down on food, alcohol, and caffeine intake later in the day.
Start dimming lights early: Power down lamps and electronics at least one to two hours before bed to ease the body's transition to sleep. If you need to use smart devices, keep light low and consider using blue-blocking apps on devices and wearing blue-blocking glasses.
Make your bedroom your sleepy-time haven you can’t wait to sink to: Try comfortable bedding, mattress and pillows, cool and fresh air, and tactics to block out disruptive sounds and light.
Still Struggling with Restful Sleep? Taking Melatonin May Help
Sleep is one of the most sought after and blissful states that we know. If a restful sleep continues to elude you, melatonin supplements may help.2
Is Melatonin Safe?
For most adults, melatonin is considered safe to take on a short-term basis. Do not take if you are pregnant or breastfeeding. Consult with your healthcare provider before taking if you are taking medications or have a chronic disease.
How Much Melatonin Should I Take?
Doses of melatonin range from 0.5 mg/day to 10 mg/day.1
If considering a melatonin supplement, it’s best to start with a small dose and work your way up to higher doses only as needed. Higher is not always better. If you slept okay but feel groggy the next day after taking a supplement, try cutting back to a lower dose. Dosage depends on a variety of factors. You can work with your health care provider to determine the best dosage for you.1
How to Use Melatonin
Take melatonin 30-60 minutes before bedtime. Evaluate how you feel the next morning and adjust the dosage accordingly.5
How Long Does It Take for Melatonin to Work?
Not long. Melatonin levels in the blood begin to rise within 5 to 20 minutes and peak within 60 minutes after oral administration of melatonin.5
How Often Can I Take Melatonin?
Taking melatonin before bedtime occasionally can be a helpful way to support sleep. Information on the long-term safety of supplementing with melatonin is still lacking.2 It is important to consult your health care provider if taking longer than 4 weeks.
What If I’m Pregnant or Breastfeeding?
Melatonin is not recommended for pregnant or breastfeeding women.6
Instead, follow some sleep hygiene tips, set your sleep environment up to be as cozy as possible, and get however much of that well-deserved rest you can, when you can.
The Hormone of Darkness
Its nickname may sound like the stuff of nightmares, but melatonin is just the opposite. As the “sleepy-time” agent we naturally make and rely on to get us that regenerative rest we need to survive, melatonin helps us stay at our best.
Restful sleep and all the benefits that come from it are on everyone’s wish list, but understanding the mechanisms behind that sleepy-time action that involve melatonin can help you adopt the practices around bedtime that best promote the sleep you need to wake up the most refreshed, radiant version of yourself. It isn’t called beauty sleep for nothing!
† These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.
Carroll is a nutrition scientist and communicator with over 25 years of experience as a clinician, researcher, and educator at major universities, medical centers, and nutrition industry settings. She is a passionate advocate of nutritional health and established the nutrition education and science platforms at Pharmavite. Carroll is an expert in personalized nutrition and has published several scientific papers on vitamin and mineral inadequacies and the impact on health and wellbeing. Prior to joining Pharmavite, Carroll taught nutrition at UCLA Medical School and Santa Monica College and was a chief clinical dietitian and researcher.