Sydney is a contributing health writer and editor who enjoys shedding light on health topics, making information available to anyone who wants it, and ending stigmas or lack of access to care and treatment.
Po-Chang Hsu, M.D.
Dr. Hsu received his medical degree from Tufts University in Boston, Massachusetts, and holds a Master’s of Science degree from both Harvard University and Tufts University. Outside of the medical profession, Dr. Hsu loves to write, learn new languages, and travel.
June 19, 2021
Melatonin is a hormone produced by the pineal gland in the brain that is then released into the bloodstream and cerebrospinal fluid. It helps communicate to our brains and bodies when it is time to go to sleep––in other words, it helps regulate our sleep schedule.
The production of this hormone increases and decreases depending on the time of day and the season. During seasons where the days are longer, such as summer, melatonin starts producing later in the day. The same goes for shorter days during winter. The production of this hormone increases as it gets darker and decreases as it gets lighter.
Melatonin levels are highest at night. Melatonin within the body is called endogenous melatonin, but it can be synthetically made into supplements, referred to as exogenous melatonin.
This synthetic melatonin is usually sold in stores as a pill, capsule, chewable, or liquid. The hormone melatonin and melatonin supplements are both meant to regulate your sleep schedule.
The amount of melatonin, a natural hormone, that your body produces is usually sufficient for your body’s needs. Still, supplements will help the production and get your sleep schedule back on track.
According to Johns Hopkins experts, “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.”
Taking a melatonin pill essentially causes your body to reset its circadian rhythm, helping the body to begin to get ready for sleep.
Melatonin works with your body to help regulate the timing of your circadian rhythms. The body’s circadian rhythm is the natural cycle of physical, mental, and behavioral changes in the body over a 24-hour cycle—the body’s clock. Nighttime is detected by reduced light entering the eyes.
Once the optic nerve detects this reduction of light, it sends the signal to the pineal gland to produce melatonin. The hormone melatonin is produced and secreted into the bloodstream and cerebrospinal fluid, the fluid surrounding the brain and spinal cord. Once melatonin is spread to the organs of the body, receptors detect it, which signals to the body that it is nighttime.
Melatonin pills and other supplements being used to regulate your sleep schedule will improve a lot of things, including:
If you suffer from a serious sleep disorder, melatonin might not help you much because its only intent is to help regulate your sleep schedule, not make you fall asleep.
Because of these limitations of melatonin pills and supplements, you might want to speak to a doctor if you’re suffering from a sleep disorder. Some examples of sleep disorders include:
You can make an appointment online with our sister site PlushCare. They provide convenient access to top online doctors who can help diagnose and treat sleep disorders and many other medical concerns.
Although melatonin supplements are often used for sleep disorders, it doesn’t always mean they’re the best fit or going to cure you. It’s important to ask the question, “what is melatonin doing?” It’s not making you sleepy or knocking you out like a sleeping pill. It’s releasing signals to your brain that it’s time to go to sleep. Therefore, it’s best for cases of sleep schedule changes and jet lag.
Sleep specialist, and Director of Center for Human Sleep Science at the University of California, Berkeley, Matthew Walker, says, “Melatonin simply times when sleep is going to occur, not the generation of sleep itself. I would say, however, that for people who are using melatonin and feel it benefits them, then go ahead and keep using it because – not to be dismissive – but the placebo effect is the most reliable in all of pharmacology.”
There aren’t any major side effects of using melatonin, but once you have achieved the sleeping schedule that works for you, it is best to stop using the melatonin supplements.
There is not much evidence showing long-term negative effects with the use of melatonin. The main impacts of taking too much melatonin are drowsiness and reduced core body temperature. Some conditions to consider when taking, or considering taking, melatonin supplements:
Usually, people don’t experience side effects from melatonin supplements, but some rare ones include:
Since you’re essentially telling your body, it’s time for bed when you take melatonin. It’s best to do just that. No operating heavy machinery, driving, or taking it before a long day of work!
It is best to start taking melatonin pills at a low dose, then work up to a higher dose if necessary. In adults, the dosage can range from 0.2 mg to 20.0 mg.
The correct dosage depends on factors such as age and sleeping disorder the supplement will be used. If you experience drowsiness during the day after taking a melatonin pill, try lowering the dosage.
Most melatonin pills or gummies you buy at the store will clearly label the dosage to make it easy for you to take the right amount.
You can easily find melatonin online, and it doesn’t require a prescription from a doctor. You can get it delivered right to your door.
Keep in mind that while melatonin is an easy supplement to get your hands on, and safe for the most part, it can be a misleading snake oil for those truly suffering from a sleep disorder. If you believe that you need to talk to a doctor about your lack of sleep, you can make an appointment with a doctor through our partner, PlushCare. You’ll find easy access to board-certified physicians who can diagnose, treat, and prescribe medications when necessary.
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