I’m all for a natural and authentic lifestyle. I am also for not taking anything at all, if possible. You can adjust many imbalances and heal many disorders by changing your habits and lifestyle. However, the environment around us does create a significant disruption to our body’s natural rhythm and functions including melatonin. I’m glad to bring you the latest scientific research on what you can do to correct it.
Today, I’ll share with you what I know about melatonin and how to take it if necessary. You probably know it’s something about sleep and circadian rhythm, but it’s not the whole story. There is much more that can be done for healthy, uninterrupted sleep besides taking supplemental melatonin.
Let me know if you are interested, and I’ll write another article on that subject.
And Now, Melatonin!
Melatonin is naturally synthesized by the pineal gland from serotonin. It is also produced by the retina, lens, and GI tract. It regulates sleep and waking, it increases in the dark and dramatically decreases when you are exposed to bright light.
Endogenous (means internal, natural) production starts two hours before bedtime, provided the light around you is dim. Melatonin mediates the body’s response to variations of light due to seasons, and disruption in it’s levels can lead to interrupted sleep.
Melatonin and cortisol (your stress hormone) are related inversely – when cortisol levels are low, melatonin is high and vice versa. Maintaining a correct melatonin curve through a 24-hour cycle, dramatically helps to fight stress. We all know what all-nighters do to our body and mind, especially later in life.
Besides being well-known in association with sleep, melatonin has many other significant roles.
- Melatonin has an influence on many body functions such as inflammation, stress response, sleep, metabolism, and the immune system.
- It stimulates your immune system, and when decreased, it is hard for your body to fight infections.
- It is an antioxidant found in almost every type of cell in the body. So it helps to fight free radicals and protect you from danger.
- It certainly plays a significant role in mood support and anti-aging.
What Can Decrease Melatonin?
Anything decreasing melatonin contributes to lower immune function and a rapid-aging process.
- Blue light – most commercial lights are blue. Blue light of an LED-backlit computer screen dramatically suppresses melatonin.
- Medication – aspirin, ibuprofen, benzodiazepine, HBP medication.
- Alcohol less than 4 hours before bed.
- Age > 55.
- Some lifestyle choices – sleep patterns, high stress, coffee even in the morning, deficiencies in B6, iron, folate, tryptophan, SAMe
How Much Light do you Need?
Full spectrum light contributes to suppressing melatonin during the day, and it’s good for keeping a healthy circadian rhythm. You need to be exposed to full spectrum light 20-40 minutes a day.
If you are exposed to bright light during the day, it can counterbalance the exposure to blue light from computer screens or any other electronics in the evening.
The misperception about melatonin is that the supplementation of it will suppress the natural production of it. The clinical research data doesn’t support it. So, occasional use of it is ok, but still, for the long term, it is much better to adjust your lifestyle.
Melatonin is found to be valuable in the treatment of migraines, and IBS; it is anti-inflammatory, and it is an antioxidant. The standard curve of melatonin levels in the body protects you from cancer and decreases beta-amyloid to protect the brain.
Research shows that melatonin supplementation actually increases serotonin levels and helps to fight depression.
How Much Melatonin Can I Take?
Slow release formulations are 0.3 mg and 0.5 mg of melatonin, and they are more useful than higher doses for helping with sleep.
Higher doses (like 6mg) are adequate to help you to regulate night sweats and cool you down during the night.
There will be no withdrawal effects if you take it and then discontinue it.
Funny, that often, if taken in high doses, melatonin will not help sleep as well as in low doses, counteractive to conventional logic. It proves that any supplements and herbs taken have their own way of interacting with other chemicals in your body.
What forms of melatonin exist? This is very important to know:
The immediate release formulation has an effect for up to 60 min – to initiate sleep if you have problems falling asleep.
The sustained release formulations gradually release melatonin for over 6-8 hours. You might choose it if you have difficulty staying asleep.
When to Take Melatonin
- The ideal time – 6 hours before the desired time of mid-sleep.
- An example: If you want to sleep from 11 pm – 7 am, you should take it at 9 pm.
- If it is sublingual, chewable or liquid, it might work faster so should be taken closer to bedtime.
- If it is in the extended release formulation, take it at bedtime.
Sleep disturbances can be a symptom of more significant issues, and it is a much more responsible choice to seek the help of a holistic physician to be evaluated appropriately. We are trained and educated to select the best supplements possible for a different presentation of symptoms.
Please take the information above as an educational guideline, evaluate your lifestyle, turn off your electronics two hours before bedtime, and…have a good night sleep.