Should I use melatonin for sleep?
Should I use melatonin for sleep?
Melatonin is a hormone that regulates sleep and wake cycles. It's also the most popular over-the-counter treatment for insomnia in the United States, with more than 5 million prescriptions written each year. If you’re out there looking for a solution to help improve your sleep, you’re not alone. The CDC reported that roughly 70 million Americans suffer from some form of chronic sleep condition (CDC). Even if you’re not one of the 70 million, you might be one of the 70% of the population that don’t get enough sleep one night per month (SleepHealth).
For those of us that do struggle with sleep, melatonin supplements can offer an appealing and inexpensive option to help us get our sleep back on track. In fact, usage of melatonin supplements rose from 0.6% of the population in 2007 to 1.3% by 2012. That’s over 3 million American adults using melatonin! (American Academy of Sleep Medicine) But do those supplements work? Is it effective? Are there side effects? Are they safe? And why didn’t we include it in Virtue’s Anxiety + Stress Relief formula? Recent studies have shown mixed results. Let’s take a look.
What is Melatonin?
Before we dive into whether we should be using this ingredient, let’s dive into what Melatonin actually is and how your body uses it. Melatonin is often referred to as the “sleep hormone.” It’s generated by our bodies in our pineal gland during periods of increased darkness to support our circadian rhythm to ensure we stay on a schedule of sleeping during the night and waking during the day. As a result, it triggers our bodies to make the transition into sleepiness and helps us fall asleep quickly and deeply (Sleep Foundation).
So it seems only natural if melatonin is part of our body’s process to help us fall asleep that taking it as a dietary supplement should help that process along. Like many supplement ingredients out there, you can find both natural and synthetic forms. The natural form is typically reported to be made from actual extracts from the pineal gland of animals. These can be contaminated with viruses and/or proteins so the synthetic forms are considered to be safer (FamilyDoctor.org).
Does it work?
Melatonin supplements have been studied for a variety of different uses, but let’s just focus on sleep conditions. Two different studies over the last 5 years have shown that there isn’t strong evidence showing melatonin’s benefits for chronic insomnia (National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health). This same source goes on to say that evidence in melatonin’s benefits for shift workers is relatively small or inconclusive.
There is some evidence that suggests that melatonin supplements do help the blind population as well as those with delayed sleep-wake phase sleep disorder (Mayo Clinic). This would appear to suggest that melatonin supplementation may help those with medical conditions that would disrupt their normal melatonin production processes.
Is Melatonin Safe and are there side effects?
One of the most disturbing studies we reviewed on melatonin was conducted in 2017. In this study, the authors collected 31 different melatonin supplements from typical retail outlets. They used UPLC (Ultra Performance Liquid Chromatography) to measure the amount of actual melatonin in the supplements. They found the melatonin content varied drastically from what was reported on the label from -83% to +478%. In fact, 71% of those supplements measured were more than 10% outside of label claim. Even more disturbing was that eight out of the 31 contained the controlled substance serotonin (Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine).
Beyond this risk, melatonin does have the risk of interaction with other medications, in particular those used to treat epilepsy and blood thinners. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine also recommends avoiding melatonin for those inflicted with dementia and noted that melatonin appears to stay active longer in the older population (National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health).
The side effects of melatonin typically include headache, dizziness, nausea and not surprisingly, drowsiness. The level of drowsiness is believed to be related to the amount of supplementation and the dosage that provides the right balance of getting to sleep without a follow on feeling of drowsiness can differ quite a bit by person. Commonly, melatonin supplements exist between 0.5mg up to 10mg - a 20x spread!
What to look for in your sleep supplement
While using melatonin may make sense for certain people with specific medical conditions, we don’t recommend taking melatonin supplements for the vast majority of the population because of the above-mentioned issues. This is the reason we chose not to use melatonin in Virtue’s Anxiety + Stress Relief formula. We wanted to help those of us with sleep troubles caused by ruminating thoughts with clinically tested ingredients that have shown a clear link to improved sleep.
Here's what we do know: Melatonin has been used safely and successfully for some time, but it may not be appropriate for everyone who needs help sleeping—especially children and pregnant women. Do your research on this one before trying this natural remedy yourself!