The National Sleep Foundation points that insomnia can be caused by psychiatric and medical conditions, unhealthy sleep habits, specific substances, and/or certain biological factors. In fact, researchers recently have begun to think that this condition might be related with the brain having trouble to stop being awake.
The brain has a wake cycle and a sleep cycle (one is turned on when the other one is turned off). Insomnia appears as a problem when one of either two of these cycles are irregular.
On other cases, having trouble sleeping every once in a while may just come out as a result from stress over work or a particular situation in a given time in life. Truth is that if we could go back in time and tell our 7-year-old selves not to complain about nap time, we would.
But as grown-ups having trouble catching Zzz’s , melatonin pills seem like a fair option. After all, there are countless bottles stocking drugstore shelves. How much do you really know about them, though?
What is Melatonin?
Melatonin is a hormone released by the brain that helps regulate the body’s circadian rhythm (a.k.a. your internal clock), explains David Lee, M.D., assistant clinical professor of medicine at the UCSF Fresno Medical Education Program. “It’s secreted by the pineal gland, which is at the base of the brain and regulated by light,” he says. “It’s a natural hormone that makes us sleep, and the moment the light goes away, like in the evening, that’s when our peak melatonin [is produced].”
Are melatonin pills really safe?
Melatonin pills are not registered by the US Drug and Food Administration so it might be hard to tell if there are preservatives and additives in the pills you’re taking, says Sanjeev Kothare, M.D., professor in the department of neurology and director of the pediatric sleep program at NYU Langone Medical Center. “Some [users] have experienced a little bit of allergic reactions, not from the melatonin, but from the preservatives or additives,” he says. Lee emphasizes that it’s important to always buy the supplement from a reputable company, avoiding herbal remedy peddlers.
Kothare points that some studies in animals have been linked to depression reproductive issues, and immunological problems. While these results haven’t been replicated in humans, there also haven’t been any good studies showing the long-term safety of melatonin pills, says Kothare.
Still, Lee adds that no serious side effects have been reported. Though he does note that if you take too much of the supplement you may feel drowsy, get a headache, or experience some short-term memory loss. “Those are the common but pretty mild side effects,” he says. The important thing, Lee points out, is to take the correct amount.
“The biggest myth out there, especially for insomnia, is that more is better,” says Lee. In fact, when it comes to melatonin, less is actually more because your body already makes it. He suggests taking 0.5 milligrams if you do decide to try it. If that dosage amount is difficult to track down, buy one milligram pills and cut them in half.
Bottom line is: Unfortunately, there’s not enough solid research out there to back up whether melatonin supplements are truly an effective and safe way to get your sleep on. If you’re still struggling to reach dreamland, Kothare does have several other suggestions: Try to maintain a similar sleep schedule during the week and on weekends, limit the use of electronics that emit blue light for one to two hours before bed time, and purchase a bright light source for use in the mornings to help regulate your body’s internal clock. Your dream journal will be filled in no time.