Melatonin sleep aids are still growing in popularity, with millions of Americans still using them in 2021. If you’re one of those people or are considering melatonin for sleep, it pays to understand precisely how these sleep aids work.
“Your body produces melatonin naturally. It doesn’t make you sleep, but as melatonin levels rise in the evening, it puts you into a state of quiet wakefulness that helps promote sleep,” explains Johns Hopkins sleep expert Luis F. Buenaver, Ph.D., C.B.S.M.
Most of the time, people’s bodies produce enough melatonin to induce sleep on their own. However, there are measures you can take to make the most of your melatonin production. You can take a supplement on a short-term basis if you’re suffering from insomnia or a night owl who needs to get to bed earlier.
Side Effects of Melatonin
Short-term use of melatonin has very few side effects. It is generally well-tolerated by most people who take it. The most commonly reported side effects, however, are daytime drowsiness, dizziness, and headaches. Still, these have been reported by only a small percentage of people who take melatonin supplements.
In children, the reported side effects of short-term use vary. Some children may feel agitated or risk bedwetting when using melatonin.
Note: For both adults and children, consulting with a doctor before taking melatonin can prevent potential allergic reactions or other medications’ adverse interactions. People taking anti-epilepsy and blood-thinning medicines, in particular, should ask their doctor about possible drug interactions. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine warns against melatonin use in individuals with dementia and breastfeeding women.
As far as the long-term effects of melatonin supplements in children or adults, there is also very little data. There is some concern that melatonin’s sustained use could influence puberty in children, but research so far is still inconclusive.
Can You Overdose on Melatonin?
People use melatonin supplements to help them sleep and keep their sleep-wake cycle sound. However, too much melatonin in the body can have adverse effects, making sleep harder to come by, and upset your natural sleep schedule. When you finally fall asleep, the surplus of melatonin in the system can lead to lucid dreaming, which may leave you feeling even more tired in the morning.
That said, overdosing on melatonin will not be fatal, but the consequences may lead to more problems. Without adequate sleep, you will likely feel tense and unfocused throughout the day. Sleep deprivation may also lead to poor immune function, loss of hand-eye coordination, and slower cognitive response times.
In addition to sleep loss, the following are some of the most common melatonin overdose symptoms.
- Anxiety and depression
- Joint pain
- Abdominal cramps
- Mild tremors
How to Increase Melatonin Production Naturally
Using melatonin supplements for sleep is pretty straightforward. The product package usually provides the necessary usage instructions and the recommended dosage. However, if you’re trying to improve your sleep schedule naturally, instead of relying on a melatonin supplement to promote a healthy sleep-wake cycle, try these.
Maintain a Steady Sleep Schedule
The body’s natural melatonin production is linked to the cycles of the sun. Sunlight keeps melatonin levels flat, while the coming of the night triggers its secretion, so the body can relax and sleep at the end of the day.
That said, going to bed and waking up around the same time every day will improve your circadian rhythm and help you get more quality sleep. Your body will grow accustomed to this routine in time, and you will find rest much more comfortable to come by.
Research by the National Institute of Health hints that melatonin production is highest in the middle of the night (between 2 and 4 a.m.) and decreases in the second half of the night.
Increasing your exposure to sunlight can bolster your sleep schedule. Exposing yourself to daylight in the morning helps slow melatonin production so you can feel sharp and focused.
With increased exposure to sunlight during the day, the night’s effects in the evening will be more advanced. This radical shift will naturally increase melatonin production and help you fall asleep much faster.
Reduce Exposure to Blue Light
The blue light emitted from computerized screens can often mimic sunlight. Utilizing your devices before going to sleep can trick the brain into thinking it’s not time to sleep just yet, causing melatonin production to slow and cortisol to rise. When this happens, it can be challenging to fall asleep. That said, it is a good idea to stay away from blue light for at least a few hours before bedtime. Reducing the light pollution in your bedroom and keeping it as gloomy as possible can also help boost your melatonin levels so that you can fall asleep.
Eat Foods Rich in Melatonin
Eating foods rich in melatonin can also help promote sleep. Fruits and vegetables, such as spinach, bananas, tomatoes, and cherries, naturally contain melatonin. Almonds, honey, and oats also support melatonin production in the body. If you ever need a snack before bed, opt for one of these foods to help promote relaxation and sleep.
Although melatonin supplements may seem like the ideal quick fix for sleeplessness, they can have the opposite effect if too much is taken. With the hassle of dosing and the varying results, it’s difficult to know exactly how your body will react to the melatonin. If you feel the need to include these sleep aids in your routine, please talk to your doctor about your sleeping problems first.