If you have trouble sleeping at night, join the club! The results of countless studies and polls indicate that the majority of Americans struggle with sleep problems, in the form of sleep disorders, snoring, disrupted or insufficient sleep, sleep apnea, daytime fatigue… you get the picture.
The statistics are bleak: Tens of thousands of car accidents every year are caused by drivers falling asleep behind the wheel, and sleep-related productivity loss costs U.S. employers an estimated $18 billion annually. The CDC has labeled insufficient sleep “a public heath epidemic.”
Melatonin and Sleep Problems
Sleep experts believe that melatonin production plays a big role in this health crisis – and rising rates of technology use are largely to blame.
Melatonin is a hormone released from the pineal gland that helps to regulate your body’s internal clock (or circadian rhythm). It’s nicknamed the “Dracula of Hormones” because — when everything’s working properly – it’s only released at night, from around 9 p.m. to 9 a.m. Light exposure suppresses melatonin production, so levels of the hormone are barely detectable during the day. But unfortunately, indoor lighting and light emitted from TVs, computers, and cellphones also interfere with the body’s ability to produce melatonin.
Dr. Charles Czeisler of Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital explains: “Artificial light exposure between dusk and the time we go to bed at night suppresses release of the sleep-promoting hormone melatonin, enhances alertness and shifts circadian rhythms to a later hour — making it more difficult to fall asleep.”
Other aspects of modern life that cause melatonin problems: jet lag as a result of traveling across time zones, and shift work that makes a consistent schedule impossible. Natural causes such as poor vision, older age, and menopause can also interfere with melatonin production.
Why Take Melatonin Supplements?
Although many of us may have trouble producing melatonin when we need it, melatonin supplements are widely available. Supplementing with melatonin has shown to be useful in regulating circadian rhythm, relieving jet lag, and helping people fall asleep and stay asleep.
Why should you consider taking melatonin?
- Electric lights and computers are unavoidable for most people. We know that too much light exposure around bedtime is problematic, but we all know that electricity and electronics are here to stay. Supplementing with melatonin is a way to regulate your sleep cycle even when you’re not able to dim the lights and power off your devices before bed.
- Unlike other sleep aids, melatonin addresses the root of the problem. Prescription sleep aids are popular, but they do not get to the root of a person’s sleep troubles. Instead of re-setting your circadian rhythm and helping you fall asleep naturally, these drugs help you sleep essentially by “knocking you out.”
- Melatonin is supposed to be in your body. While it is very possible to overdose on sleeping pills, melatonin has not been associated with toxicity or overdose. And unlike most vitamin and mineral supplements, you are not trying to “increase your melatonin levels” by taking melatonin. You’re giving your body the melatonin it isn’t producing naturally — a small dose is typically all that’s needed.
- Melatonin is not addictive. Most prescription — and even over-the-counter — sleep aids can easily become habit-forming, leading to a serious dependence or addiction. Melatonin, on the other hand, doesn’t come with this scary side effect.
- Drowsiness is not a typical side effect. For most people, melatonin supplements do not cause longer-than-desired sleep or next-day drowsiness. Taking melatonin before bed helps you fall and stay asleep, but perhaps the most desirable effect is that it allows you to remain focused and alert the following day.
What to Know about Melatonin Supplements
- The most effective and quickest-acting way to take melatonin is in liquid, sublingual (under-the-tongue) form.
- Never take animal-derived melatonin, and make sure your supplements are manufactured in reputable facilities.
- Start with a lower dose and see how that works. If you’re drowsy the next day, the dose was likely too high for you.