Author: Luke Sholl
Melatonin is crucial to the body's sleep-wake cycle, and disruptions to natural melatonin levels can quickly sabotage restful sleep, so understanding how the hormone works is essential. To find out what you need to know, keep reading.
Released by the pineal gland, melatonin is a naturally occurring hormone that tells our body when it should wake and sleep. For most of us, this process happens without any need for intervention. However, several factors can upset melatonin production, leading to problems achieving restful sleep.
Fortunately, melatonin supplements are an effective way of "topping up" the body's natural levels—but they come with a few caveats. Before we take a closer look at ways to increase melatonin levels (and if you really need to), let's first dive deeper into how our body regulates its sleep-wake cycle.
Understanding melatonin production is all well and good, but you're probably wondering what that has to do with helping you fall asleep? Well, melatonin plays a key role in the body's circadian rhythm.
While it may sound complicated, circadian rhythm is the technical term for your body's internal clock. Think of it as a biological timer that tells your bodily systems when to wake up and when to sleep. However, your internal body clock doesn't just work of its own volition. Instead, it uses exposure to light to trigger the relevant reaction.
In the case of melatonin, the pineal gland produces more of the substance as daylight begins to fade, to tell our body it's time to sleep. As the sun rises, melatonin levels drop to help all of our bodily systems get going again.
This leads us nicely to the issue most people suffer from—exposure to artificial light. Exposure to light (regardless of its source) isn't inherently disruptive. After all, there's bound to be times when we need to stay up late to finish a task or chore.
However, regular exposure to artificial light can wreak havoc on our body's circadian rhythm. Don't forget, our body has evolved to rely on the sun's rising and setting (the largest source of natural light) to help it figure out when to sleep and when to wake up. If you expose yourself to light late at night, the body becomes confused, unnecessarily reducing melatonin levels when you should be asleep.
Over time, the body gets out of sync with day and night cycles, with low melatonin levels leading to sleep problems. If your body has no idea when it should sleep or wake, then the chances of getting restful sleep are incredibly slim. Unfortunately, you cannot simply undo the damage by staying up late, then supplementing with melatonin—your body needs time to adjust and get back in sync.
A simple fix for this problem is, of course, avoiding bright lights late at night. But it’s not just lamps and overhead lights we’re talking about. Arguably the worst culprit is blue light from electronic devices. In other words, your phone, computer, or tablet can easily throw your circadian rhythm off course.
Melatonin supplementation alone won't undo the damage of a disrupted sleep pattern, but it can give your body a push in the right direction. And what better way to restore melatonin levels than with food! Yes, that's right, eating foods rich in melatonin can give your body's innate levels a boost.
The benefit of the foods listed below is twofold. First, many of them contain vitamins and minerals that support the conversion of serotonin to melatonin. Second, some are abundant sources of melatonin in their own right.
Foods that could prove beneficial to sleep include:
• Nuts and seeds
• Fish (fatty fish)
• Fortified cereal
• Valerian tea
• Rolled oats/barley
• Chamomile tea
Moreover, if you want to prevent disruption to your body's natural sleep-wake cycle, try to avoid caffeine, spicy foods, and alcohol after mid-day.
Supplementing is a perfectly viable way to increase melatonin levels, but it isn't a total solution. Instead, increasing melatonin levels via supplements should always be part of a broader strategy to improve sleep quality.
Remember, melatonin is still only one piece of the sleep puzzle—you need balanced exposure to light and dark to maintain a regular sleep pattern.
With our PSA on melatonin in mind, the key to determining if melatonin supplements are right for you is identifying the primary cause of your sleep disruption.
The first factor to ascertain is the cause of your irregular sleep hours. If it's from occasional external disruption, supplementation may help you get back to normality.
An excellent example of when short-term melatonin use can be beneficial is when dealing with jet lag. Travelling between different time zones causes acute disruption to your circadian rhythm and can leave sleep quality severely lacking.
Taking a melatonin supplement a few hours before bed can help get your body back into a suitable sleep schedule. Just know that this doesn’t happen immediately. The general rule is it takes one day to recover from jet lag for every hour of difference.
With irregular sleep patterns out of the way, we can focus on two other common sleep issues, the first of which is difficulty falling asleep. The key here is to focus on the early stages of sleep as your body begins to unwind.
To use melatonin effectively, consider taking supplements late in the afternoon or early in the evening. We want to encourage the body's natural shift into a rested state, so taking melatonin earlier in the day can help kickstart this process.
If getting to sleep isn't an issue, but staying asleep is, then it's important to change when you consume melatonin. You'll want to take it about fifteen minutes before you get into bed. This way, it'll help keep levels topped up while you sleep, and stop them from dropping to the point where your body begins to wake.
Dosage is another important consideration, as different sleep issues might call for slight variations. For example, with jet lag, roughly 0.5mg of melatonin can help lighten the impact.
However, if you're someone who occasionally finds it hard to fall asleep, and you haven't flown halfway across the world, you'll want to increase the dose slightly to 1mg.
Don't forget, everyone's sleep situation is different, so it's important to take melatonin at your own pace. If you want to start with a lower dose first, that's perfectly fine. Establishing good sleep hygiene is all about finding what works for you.
The good news is, repeated consumption of melatonin doesn't induce any dependency or addiction. However, you should only ever use melatonin supplements as a short-term sleep aid. They are only designed to give your body a push in the right direction. To truly restore your circadian rhythm and enjoy restful sleep, you'll need to address all facets of sleep hygiene.
Despite melatonin's general safety, there are some caveats to its use. The effectiveness of melatonin won't diminish over time, but in some cases, regular supplementation can start to inhibit your body's natural production. There's also a mild risk of side effects, including headaches, dizziness, nausea, and drowsiness.
Finally, melatonin supplements can interfere with specific anticonvulsants or contraceptive medications. Be sure to discuss your circumstances with a medical professional if you have any concerns about taking melatonin.
There's no doubt that melatonin can be a valuable short-term aid to improved sleep quality. However, if you find it doesn't work or isn't suitable for your circumstances, don't worry! There's plenty of other natural aids available that can encourage a restful night's sleep. We won't go into full detail on this article, but several notable alternatives include:
• Valerian root
If your sleep issues fall under the categories highlighted earlier, then it's likely that melatonin (or suitable alternatives) could help get your body back on the right track. Melatonin won't fix sleep issues in their entirety, but it can give you a boost while you address other areas of sleep hygiene.
Interested in trying melatonin for yourself? Why not take it in combination with high-quality CBD, courtesy of Meladol, Cibdol's exclusive melatonin supplement. Or, if you want to learn more about the benefits of restful sleep and how to practise effective sleep hygiene, visit our CBD Encyclopedia for everything you need to know.