Melatonin is a hormone that the brain produces in response to darkness. It helps with the timing and sleep of your circadian rhythm(the 24-hour internal clock). Exposure to light at night can block melatonin production. Melatonin dietary supplements can be made from animals or microorganisms, but mostly they are made synthetically. Melatonin supplements may be helpful for certain conditions, such as jet lag, delayed sleep-wake phase disorder, some shunting disorders in children, and post-surgery anxiety. 

Is The Use Of Melatonin For Sleep A Potential Health Harm?

From the latest study, it is found that the number of adults who are sleeping on unprescribed melatonin is growing and the use is increasing at dangerously high levels. According to the study, published in the medical journal JAMA, the researchers found that by 2018 Americans were getting more than double the amount of melatonin they consumed a decade ago. Experts are concerned that the negative effects of the pandemic on sleep may have further increased dependence on sleeping pills. 

The Use Of Melatonin For Sleep A Potential Health Harm

As per Rebecca Robbins, sleep specialist and instructor in the division of sleep medicine for Harvard Medical School, taking sleeping aids has been found to be associated with the development of dementia and early mortality.  Melatonin has been linked to headaches, dizziness, nausea, stomach cramps, drowsiness, confusion or dissonance, mimicry, mild anxiety, depression, tremors, and unusually low blood pressure. It can also interact with common medications and cause allergies. 

Although short-term use for those who have trouble falling asleep appears to be safe, long-term safety is unknown according to the National Centre for Complementary and Integrative Health at the National Institutes of Health. 

There is less regulation as the doses increase. Since 2006, a small but growing division of adults has been using more than 5 milligrams of melatonin, which is commonly used as a short-term memory treatment. Contrary to what is advertised on the label, the level of melatonin is much higher. Unlike diet pills, melatonin is not fully regulated by the US Food and Drug Administration(FDA), so there are no federal requirements for companies to test pills to make sure they contain the right amount of melatonin as advertised.

Previous research has shown that melatonin levels in these unregulated, commercially available melatonin supplements range from – 83% to +478% of the labeled content, as per Robbins who co-authored the book “Sleep for Success! Everything You Must Know About Sleep But Are Too Tired to Ask.” There are no requirements for companies to test their products in stores and online for harmful hidden additives in melatonin supplements. According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, a department of the National Institutes of Health, new research has shown that 26% of melatonin supplements contain serotonin, a hormone that can be harmful even at relatively low levels. 

The purity of the melatonin that is available without a prescription is quite questionable according to Robbins. Taking too much serotonin, such as antidepressants, migraine medications, and melatonin can cause a serious drug reaction. Mild symptoms include chills and diarrhea, while more severe reactions can lead to muscle stiffness, fever, seizures, and permanent death if left untreated. 

Just because melatonin is bought without a sale, experts say that many people consider melatonin as a herbal supplement or vitamin. But it is a hormone produced by the pituitary gland, which is located deep in the brain and is released into the bloodstream to regulate the body’s sleep cycles. 

Studies have shown that the use of melatonin is beneficial for sleep if used properly, taken at least two hours before bedtime, but the fact is that there is very little benefit from doing so. 

According to Dr. Cora Collette Breuner, a professor in the department of pediatrics at Seattle Children’s Hospital at the University of Washington, found that when adults took melatonin it reduced the amount of time it took to fall asleep by four to eight minutes. He also said that for those who need hours of sleep, probably the best thing for them to do is to turn off the screens or work out for 20-3- minutes every day or not drink caffeine at all. These all are sleep hygiene tools that work, but people are very restrained and rather just take the pill at night.

Experts say that there are other proven sleeping tips that work just as well, if not better, than sleeping pills. In the dark, the body begins to secrete melatonin. Studies have shown that the body will slow down or stop producing melatonin if exposed to light, including blue light from your smartphones, laptops, etc. so turn off these devices at least an hour before bedtime. 

Other tips include keeping your living room temperature at the cooler temperature of about 60 to 67 degrees Fahrenheit(15 to 20 degrees Celsius). You sleep better if you are a little cold, experts say. Establish a bedtime routine by taking a hot bath or shower, reading a book, or listening to soothing music. Or you can try deep breathing, yoga, medication, or light stretching. Experts suggest going to bed and waking up at the same time every day, even on weekends and your body will love this daily routine. 

As per Robbins, if all these do not help and if you are planning to use melatonin as a short-term sleeping aid, she advises buying medicated melatonin. To find out, look for a stamp indicating that the product has been tested by an independent, non-commercial US Drug Convention Dietetic Supplement Testing Program. 

 

Author

Isla Zyair is a registered nutritionist with more than 20 years of hands-on experience in plant nutrition and sustainability. She has completed a master’s in Sustainable Food Systems, Prescott College. She is known for her love for green vegetation and has been a plant-based dietician. She has a love for natural food and has been living a vegan lifestyle. Isla lived with her parents They were farmers who grew their own food living in the suburbs. She is a knowledgeable person who published books on Nutrition Eating Plans for Achieving Optimal Health. She is one of the most sought-after personalities on social media and has been part of books on nutrition.

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