- Diseases, Disorders & Conditions
Can Melatonin Supplements Help you to Sleep Better?
What is melatonin?
Melatonin (N-acetyl-5-methoxytryptamine) is a hormone that is natural secreted within the body by the pineal gland. Small amounts of melatonin can also be found in some foods, including fruits, vegetables, grains and meats. The level of melatonin that is present in our bodies varies throughout the day and this helps in regulating our circadian rhythms, which are commonly referred to as our 'body clock'. It has also been studied as a possible treatment for many conditions including cancer, depression, seasonal effective disorder and disorders.
The production of melatonin is inhibited by light and then increases with darkness. Melatonin secretion increases as the sunlight naturally lessens in the evening, peaks in the middle of the night and then gradually reduces as daylight increases. This helps to make us feel sleepy, sleep through the night and then wake up ready for the morning ahead. For some people this cycle of melatonin production appears to be ineffective or lacking in sufficient amounts or timing. This can lead to difficulties in being able to get to sleep at night, in sleeping through the night or in being able to wake up in the mornings. These sleep difficulties can then lead to further problems such as feeling tired during the day. Not being able to sleep can also be very frustrating to live with, especially if the problem continues over a long period of time.
Melatonin supplements in tablet and less commonly liquid form, can be prescribed or purchased and can be helpful for people who are suffering with issues such as night waking and insomnia or difficulty in being able to fall asleep. No major side effect of supplementing melatonin in this way have been reported so it considered to be a safe treatment even for children. Some people have reported that it can cause nausea, drowsiness and dizziness so care should be taken regarding this. Excessive consumption of melatonin can however, have unpleasant side effects such as headaches, confusion, excessive drowsiness and difficulty concentrating on tasks. A further downside to taking more melatonin than is needed is that this can cause further disruption to the sleep/wake cycle and therefore is counterproductive. The most common side effect of melatonin use is drowsiness so it is recommended that you do not drive or operate machinery once a dose has been taken.
Although it is safe to use and has relatively few side effects melatonin is known to interact with several other medications including birth control pills, anticoagulants and medications for diabetes. Due to this fact it is very important to see your doctor if you are taking any prescribed medications before commencing using melatonin.
The required dosage of melatonin can vary from person to person but taking more isn't always better. Melatonin works best when used in a way that mimics its natural production in the body. This natural production can be mimicked by taking small amounts over a length time in response to light decreasing as night falls. Melatonin is also available in standard dose tablets which although effective for most people, some have found that although the tablets help them get to sleep they are still not able to sleep for long periods and wake up in the night. Slow release tablets can help to resolve this problem as the dosage of melatonin is then released into the body slowly over a period of time in a way that more closely matches the natural production of melatonin.
Melatonin is believed to be very effective in treating insomnia and disruptions to the sleep/wake cycle in children and adults with medical conditions such as autism, ADHD, cerebral palsy and central nervous system disorders. In many cases people who have these types of conditions can also have difficulty falling asleep at night, resulting in large amounts of stress and frustration as they lay awake for hours each night. Supplementation with melatonin can also help decrease this and make it much easier to fall asleep.
A study that was carried out at the Kennedy Krieger Institute in Baltimore found that around 70% of children with autism also suffered with sleep related issues. This study found that giving these children low doses of melatonin helped them to fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer at night.
© 2012 Claire