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Is Taking Melatonin Good For Your Sleep?

CC0 / / Sleeping woman
 Sleeping woman - Sputnik International, 1920, 21.03.2022
Our bodies have their own internal sleep-wake clock, which is commonly known as the "circadian clock". Yet, sometimes it can be disrupted, which is why many people turn to medication to fix it.
Many people who experience problems with their sleep-wake cycle take melatonin - a hormone primarily released by the pineal gland at night. While it might help with your circadian clock, there are also some risks that one has to keep in mind.
Doctor Lourdes M. Delrosso has shared with Science Alert several tips on how to take melatonin and whether you should do it at all.

What is the Function of Melatonin?

This hormone controls sleep regulation. Its levels increase in response to darkness, signalling the brain that the night has arrived and it is time to have a rest. The production of melatonin shuts down in the morning with the first rays of sunlight, so that the brain knows it's daytime.
This is how your "circadian clock" works, making sure that the body's internal sleep-wake clock functions properly. However, many people have trouble with that.

"I have seen many teenagers come to my clinic because they can't sleep until 2 a.m. or 3 a.m., but they're up watching videos on their electronic devices until late at night", says Delrosso. "I usually recommend my patients turn the lights off at a reasonable time and expect sleepiness to start occurring within one hour. But it takes time for the natural clock to adjust to a new schedule, and often my patients prefer to use a melatonin supplement to quicken the circadian time adjustment".

Is Taking Melatonin Good For You?

In some countries, for example, in the United States, melatonin can be purchased without a prescription. In the EU, Canada, and Australia, you can only get it by prescription for the short-term treatment of insomnia.
Even though melatonin is a natural hormone for our body, it still has side effects, Delrosso explains. Among the most common are headaches and dizziness. Additionally, melatonin can interact with other medicines, such as anticoagulants (drugs that help prevent blood clots).

"The best evidence of safety for the use of melatonin is for short-term use only (one to three months) and in low doses (0.5-1mg). The long-term effects of melatonin remain unknown", Delrosso warns.

Melatonin definitely helps on occasion, but it is important that you consult with a doctor before taking the medication yourself.

"Insomnia can be a symptom of a sleep disorder like restless legs syndrome or obstructive sleep apnea, or it can be a symptom of another condition, such as depression, asthma, or pain", the doctor says.

The necessary treatment will help you best when prescribed by a specialist. Before turning to melatonin, one should first consider regulating lights in the bedroom and avoid other contributors to sleep disruptors - such as caffeine, alcohol, heavy exercise in the evening, or using electronic devices before going to bed.
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