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  • Writer's pictureAmy

Debunking the Myths and Magic of Melatonin


sleeping aides

I know you know what melatonin is. You may fall on the Melatonin Fan bandwagon, or you might be fed up with it for whatever reason. But I’m about to flip the script on you when it comes to what you thought you knew about melatonin.


I want to hate melatonin. I do. As a perpetual skeptic, I want to prove things wrong when they seem too good to be true.


But, as of the latest research, I can’t. Melatonin is OK. Sometimes it’s more than OK- in some cases it’s actually good for you.


Hey man- I’m all for admitting when I’m wrong. Maybe down the line there will be a bunch of research indicating that melatonin is a problem. Until then, and as much as I will still use my herbs first, melatonin is alright.


I bring this up because when people learn I work with sleep disorders, one of the first questions I get asked is usually related to melatonin. Many people have mixed feelings. I know parents- good parents - who are dosing their kids up with it regularly. Something does feel a little wrong about that, however when my kids were little this wasn’t an option, so who’s to say I wouldn’t have done the same?


Melatonin- what is it, really?


Let’s start off with what melatonin actually is: a hormone. Commonly known as the sleep hormone, it is released as the eyes - that’s right- your actual eyeballs- perceive darkness. This is why it is important to expose your eyeballs to that glorious bright morning sunlight each day. It tells the pineal gland (that’s one part of our body that makes melatonin) not to be making more because we don’t need it in the morning. But it doesn’t just affect sleep. It basically helps control a lot of the bodily rhythms of our day and night schedules. All of this has to do with Circadian Rhythms, which we’ll go into deeper at another time.


Know what’s cool about the pineal gland? Unlike other things in the endocrine system, like your thyroid, it is not regulated by negative feedback. Which means, there is not a point at which the body says, “Hold on there! That’s too much! Shut her off!”


Why is this important? Because our body will not stop making our own melatonin just because we are using a supplement of it. I often thought I should use it sparingly so I don’t become dependent on it, or so my body doesn’t rely on it and stop making it itself. But that is not a thing. It just. Keeps. Going. Lights off: melatonin systems go. Lights on: systems down. Simple as that.


By the way- did you know how much melatonin we make on our own? Like .3mg on average. So when you see those supplement bottles with 3, 5, and 10mg of melatonin…that’s kind of a lot. Another fun fact that I still find hard to believe: More melatonin does not make you more sleepy. Seriously. How crazy is that?


Maybe you’re thinking, Well Amy, I’ve had high doses of melatonin and it knocked me out good.


Cool. Good for you! But that’s not how it works, apparently. According to studies, the dosage is really different for every individual. Sometimes a lower dose (1-3mg) is actually more effective at making someone sleepy than higher doses. It also depends on the reason that you’re taking it.


Not all melatonin is the same.


There are certain types of melatonin supplements to take for falling asleep, and certain ones for staying asleep. There are also different protocols and methods for taking them depending on what you need. It’s actually really interesting and way more complicated than I had thought.


And, let’s be honest- there’s a lot of crappy supplements out there. Including melatonin. One of the more challenging things I find with this supplement is trying to find a reputable company since this is not regulated by the FDA.



So, let’s recap. Most of the concerns I hear about melatonin are

  1. The body will stop making it on its own

  2. It didn’t work for me

  3. I don’t want to develop a tolerance for it. - Ah. Let’s talk about this one.


Is it possible to develop a tolerance to melatonin? If you started on 3mg and took it every night, would you need 5 next month, and so on?


Again, studies say no. Actually, melatonin seems to be relatively safe. Long term, high doses, all that stuff that I think, well, that can’t be good- does not seem to be a problem. One study showed participants using up to 100mg a day for up to a month!? And they’re fine! I imagine maybe a little groggy?


Other facts about melatonin I bet you didn’t know (I didn’t)


  • Melatonin is a strong antioxidant and helps fight inflammation. It is also advantageous for bone growth, regulation of hormone release, and immunomodulation. There are actually a ton of disorders where melatonin is used clinically, again NOT for sleep, like ADHD, autism, dementia, metabolic syndrome, GERD, preeclampsia…


  • We start creating melatonin at about 3 months of age, and it keeps going and going until: puberty. Yay. Then it starts to decline. Guess when it declines a lot more… I bet you can guess…in our 30’s and 40s. Fun! Guess when it’s the worst: starting in our 60’s-70s. This may be because the pineal gland can start to calcify around then. Bummer. Also why sleep is way more hard to come by as we get up in age. Sorry.


Safety


As far as the studies show, melatonin is pretty benign. Of course, there are times you probably want to play it safe. It can have a prolonged effect if you’re taking caffeine or some antidepressants. It is probably not great if you’re taking blood thinners, immunosuppressors, or during chemo due to its effect on bodily systems. But most of the cautions are theoretical. And remember- all melatonin is not created equal. There is a lot of room for adulteration when something so popular and unregulated is in high demand. Quality matters here! Cheaper brands have been found to include a different amount than they said on the bottle. Whoops.


I still recommend starting low to find the most effective dose for you.


Making melatonin count


And, to make sure you are getting the most out of this supplement, you want to make sure you are getting the right amount of vitamins and minerals in your diet. It won’t work as well if you don’t.

Some other considerations to get the most out of your natural melatonin are as follows:

(In order of importance and effect)


  • Adequate darkness at night

  • Reduce artificial light and blue light - blue light actually suppresses melatonin

  • Adequate protein and antioxidants

  • Eat foods with high amounts of melatonin

  • Use a supplement of melatonin


Yeah- I’d do all these things (including a few others) before I’d use a supplement of melatonin. Why? Because I’m all about having our bodies do what they need to do on their own, without a crutch.


My Approach


Under typical circumstances, my first option when working with a client for sleep problems is NOT melatonin. As a holistic practitioner, I want to find the root cause of an issue. There is always a reason for whatever problem we are experiencing. If our body is trying to tell us something with a symptom- that’s a clue that something is wrong. That’s our body communicating with us. If we throw in some melatonin to help sleep without digging into why we all of a sudden are NOT sleeping, then we will still have that issue. Sometimes it could be a sign of something more serious in the body, even if it’s not related to sleep. And we don’t want to ignore those signs.


Do I recommend melatonin to clients? Sure I do. Sometimes we need to get a few nights of sleep, however that happens, since sleep is so crucial to our healing. But I always pair it with herbs and work with the client on finding the root cause.


Hopefully this cleared up some of the misconceptions people have about melatonin. I don’t love it, I don’t hate it. It’s a helpful tool occasionally, but I’d rather not need to take something every night in order to sleep.


If you need some support in getting your sleep back on track and find nothing you have tried is working, let’s chat! I can get you started on a protocol to use melatonin more effectively, if that’s your jam, or we can explore other areas of daily life that may be affecting your sleep.


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