What does Melatonin Do and Should You Take It?
Naturally Produce by the Body Melatonin has been shown to Increase Sleep Quality
By: Robert Eilers | NightOwl.FIT Community | May 29th 2017
When I first started working night shift years ago the first thing that I ran into around the coffee pot, the night shift version of the water cooler, is melatonin. But what does melatonin do and why does it work? Anyone who has worked the night shift for any amount of time has heard of it. Sleep for me is a daily quest, each day I lay down in hopes that nothing will manage to disturb that quest. And many years ago someone could have recommended anything and I probably would have taken it. Melatonin was no different.
Please make very important note right from the start of this article, melatonin is a hormone produced naturally by your body through sunlight and food, if you take a melatonin supplement regularly it will impact your body. It will cause you to produce less of it naturally, and it will eventually limit the effects of the pill or liquid. If you wish to take one be aware of this and know what does melatonin do and why it helps.
If you have done any amount of research, which I have, melatonin seems more like a wonder drug then just a pill that helps with sleep. Before we cover what does melatonin do we should cover what melatonin is. Melatonin is a hormone made by the pineal gland, a small gland in the brain. Melatonin helps control your sleep and wake cycles. For us, on night shift we might immediately recognize the sleep and wake cycles. Something we are all too familiar with not existing in our daily lives. I previously covered melatonin in my article on the benefits of sunlight:
Benefits of Sunlight: Melatonin
The science behind melatonin production isn’t as well researched as the science behind it for day shift workers. To break it down typically when an individual wakes up and is exposed to the sun it kicks of their biological clock. Their biological clock tells them it is time to be awake.When the light goes down Melatonin production kicks in and tells the body to slow back down it is time to get ready for some good rest. However, as we know on Night Shift, we really aren’t supposed to be awake. It isn’t biologically natural. But we are either way.
So when you wake up initially you will want to expose yourself to some sunlight, while the effects of melatonin production will be limited we can still enjoy them. What you will want to try to do as the end of your night approaches is limit other light sources. It has been shown in studies that most night shift individuals actually are going to sleep 3 hours before their melatonin production kicks in during the day. That means if you are going to bed at 5:00 when your shift ends, your melatonin production might not even be starting until 8:00. To keep it simple, get the benefits of sunlight early in your shift, and then limit it, and all light sources near the end.
What Does Melatonin Do?
Melatonin has been shown in some studies to have some, if limited, to have an effect on the following things:
- Treat jet lag or insomnia
- Treating seasonal affective disorder (SAD)
- Helping to control sleep patterns for people who work night shifts.
- Preventing or reducing problems with sleeping and confusion after surgery.
- Reducing chronic cluster headaches.
A very important takeaway that many sites fail to touch on when they list what does melatonin do is that melatonin is a hormone produced by the body. Any time you add a hormone that is not your own into your body you have to be careful. That isn’t to say it will destroy your body, but be aware that it is not NATURAL, as many sites that cover what does melatonin do would like for you to believe. Though it is not natural it isn’t completely dangerous either. It can be abused though so be aware. For those that choose to actually take melatonin, which if you are desperate enough like I used to be I am sure you will.
What does Melatonin Do Fact Sheet
- Trouble Falling Asleep: 0.3 to 5 mg of melatonin daily for up to 9 months
- Disrupted Sleep-Wake Cycle: 2 to 12 mg taken at bedtime for up to 4 weeks
- Extended Difficulty Sleeping: 2 to 3 mg of melatonin before bedtime for up to 29 weeks has been used in most research—higher doses of up to 12 mg daily have also been used for shorter durations (up to 4 weeks)
- Supporting Blood Pressure Levels: 2 to 3 mg of a controlled-release melatonin for up to 4 weeks
Now that we have answered the question what does melatonin do, and how much you should take of it if you decide to, I would like to cover alternatives, that are actually NATURAL. Many years ago once I discovered melatonin was not natural and hence constant use would, therefore, limit my bodies ability to produce it, I looked for alternative sources. I have covered many lifestyle changes, as well as other natural sources in my sleep tips section.
Natural Sleep Aids: Tea
- Chamomile– Chamomile is one of the oldest, most widely used and well-documented medicinal plants in the world and has been recommended for a variety of healing applications.Traditionally, chamomile has been used for centuries as an anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, mildly astringent and healing medicine.Chamomile is widely regarded as a mild tranquilizer and sleep-inducer. Sedative effects may be due to the flavonoid, apigenin that binds to benzodiazepine receptors in the brain.
- Valerian-The extract of the root of valerian (Valeriana officinalis), a flowering plant, has been widely used to treat sleeping disorders in Europe for decades. Valerian has been shown to have similar effects on the nervous system similar to other medications which bind to GABA receptors. GABA receptors in the brain have the ability to either calm you or make you more anxious. Natural sleep aids like valerian typically have a more calming effect.
- Green- While some versions of green tea have caffeinated properties, it still has its place on this list. Green Tea contains theanine which has been known to cause EEG brain waves to smooth out. Typically I will reach for a green tea throughout my day as well as water and then have a cup of valerian mixed with Chamomile before bed. All of which are great natural sleep aids.
Natural Sleep Aids: Kava Kava
Natural Sleep Aids: Essential Oils
Natural Sleep Aids: Magnesium
Previously I have covered using magnesium as a natural sleep aid but I couldn’t leave it off this list. You can go back and see the article here find in depth information.
- Magnesium helps produce hormones like serotonin. Which are helpful in calming the brain and causing us to relax
- Magnesium helps optimize circulation and blood pressure
- Magnesium relieves muscle aches & Spasms
- Magnesium can help prevent Migraines
- Magnesium can help with anxiety or depression
- Magnesium can help with Restless Leg Syndrome(RLS)
“Melatonin – Overview.” WebMD. WebMD, n.d. Web. 29 May 2017.
Costello, Rebecca B., Cynthia V. Lentino, Courtney C. Boyd, Meghan L. O’Connell, Cindy C. Crawford, Meredith L. Sprengel, and Patricia A. Deuster. “The Effectiveness of Melatonin for Promoting Healthy Sleep: A Rapid Evidence Assessment of the Literature.” Nutrition Journal. BioMed Central, 2014. Web. 29 May 2017.