By now, it’s no longer a secret that the way you sleep can completely change your attitude and your energy for the upcoming day. Sleep deprivation has severe consequences on both the body and the mind, affecting one’s work, personal relationships, and health status. One of the natural sleep aids that people turn to when they can’t get any shut-eye is melatonin supplements. But what are they? And do they work?
What Is Melatonin?
The pineal gland in your brain secretes a hormone known as melatonin. This hormone helps regulate a person’s sleep-wake cycle, as the pineal gland works together with your body’s circadian rhythm (what we commonly refer to as the body’s “internal clock”).
The circadian rhythm and the amount of sunlight you expose your body to each day will indicate how much melatonin is in your body. Melatonin levels usually rise during the night and stay low during the day. As you sleep, your levels drop, causing you to naturally wake up in the morning.
What Influences It?
Naturally, the first factor that influences how much melatonin the pineal gland secretes is daylight. But since darkness is the natural trigger of melatonin, how about artificial light? There is a direct link between darkness and how much melatonin is inside your body, which means that darker environments are better suited for a restful sleep.
Automatically, another problem arises: using technology before going to bed. Several studies have shown that artificial blue light emitted by computers, laptops, smartphones, and TVs send signals to the brain that it’s not the time for sleep yet.
As a consequence, the pineal gland doesn’t secrete enough melatonin to cause that feeling of sleepiness, which can alter our sleep-wake cycle.
What Can Melatonin Supplements Do?
Melatonin naturally produces through the processes described above. However, since there are factors that can influence the secretion of melatonin, people often turn to sleep aids to help them sleep.
Melatonin sleep aids are natural, and they come in several forms, such as liquids, pills, or even chewables (with all sorts of flavors). These supplements are useful for a lot of different people and situations, such as:
- People who suffer from insomnia.
- People that have difficulties in staying asleep or those who wake up in the middle of the night can have trouble getting back to sleep.
- People who have to sleep during the day because they work night shifts.
- People who suffer from jetlag and have trouble adjusting to the current time zone they’re in.
However, these supplements can also have a series of side effects, such as short-term depression, crankiness, stomach discomfort, a sense of dizziness or sleepiness during the day, or even headaches. They are also known to interact with some types of medication, such as birth control pills, certain drugs prescribed for diabetes patients, immunosuppressants, or anticoagulants.
It important to talk to your doctor about taking supplements like these if you are on another type of medication treatment.
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Are Melatonin Supplements Efficient?
To answer the main question of this article: melatonin type supplements work for people, but for others, they are not efficient. It’s important to consider the side effects at all times. If you feel extremely sleepy or have headaches the next day, it may be a good idea to stop taking these supplements altogether.
It really depends on how your organism reacts to these supplements. Some studies have revealed the fact that these supplements work in people who suffer from jetlag. Other research has shown that it may aid people who have insomnia in the sense that it helps them fall asleep faster.
Sadly, there is insufficient evidence to draw a clear and general conclusion on the efficiency of melatonin supplements, so if you know someone who takes them and finds them useful, consider the fact that they may not be efficient in your case as well.
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Melatonin & Other Sleep Issues
Sleep falls under the influence of many different factors, not just melatonin production, so while taking these supplements can increase melatonin levels, it’s important to take the other factor into account. Also, melatonin supplements do not have long-term effects.
What this means is that some supplements can be efficient to regulate your sleep on the short-term, but if, for some reason, you suffer from a sleep disorder, or there is a deeper root to your sleep deprivation problem, you need to closely analyze that factor and try to solve the underlying problem.
For example, the quality of your sleep can decrease if you have sleep apnea, which is characterized by interruptions in breath while you’re sleeping. These supplements won’t help solve such a problem.
If you have a messed up sleeping schedule because you’re going through a stressful period, or if you suffer from anxiety, supplements of melatonin won’t make those problems go away. In such cases, therapy can be a much more useful tool in the long run.
Good use of melatonin is, for example, in a scenario where your sleep schedule was disrupted by external factors, and you need help getting back on track. For instance, if you’ve recently had several night shifts and spent most of your night awake, it will be fairly difficult to regulate your sleep schedule once again.
By taking supplements of melatonin over the course of one or two weeks, you can “force” your body to go to sleep at reasonable hours, and this will help you get back on track.
Melatonin supplements work, but with two considerations. They might not work for everyone, and this could be due to the number of side effects that counteract the benefits or due to the fact that your body responds in a different way to this melatonin secretion.
The other important consideration is that melatonin supplements, while natural, aren’t intended for long-term use. You can take them for about a maximum of four weeks, but that’s about it. If your sleep problems are caused by long-term factors, such as stress or an underlying medical condition, it’s important to talk to your doctor or find other solutions that could identify the root of the problem and solve it.