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Using Melatonin For Sleep

Taking Melatonin every day for sleep may not be helping as much as possible.

Melatonin for Sleep

Melatonin has been a popular supplement for sleep. Have you tried it?  Do you know anyone who takes Melatonin regularly? A recent study has defined some things that people regularly using melatonin for sleep should take into consideration. I will summarize them for you here.

Melatonin has been called the “sleep hormone” because it is connected to regulation of our natural day-night sleeping cycle, also called our “Circadian Rhythm”. 

While people can still sleep with inadequate levels of melatonin, timing the action of Melatonin can help people sleep better. This is most important when the sleep cycle becomes disturbed or changes. However, once the sleep cycle has been normalized, continuing to take the supplement as if it was a helpful vitamin is probably not neccessary or useful. Using Melatonin daily like a sleeping pill is not really the correct application for the supplement. 

What is Melatonin?

Melatonin is a hormone produced naturally in by the pineal gland in our brains. Melatonin’s main job in the body is to regulate night and day cycles or sleep-wake cycles.  The onset of sustained darkness causes the body to produce more melatonin, which signals the body to prepare for sleep. Melatonin production decreases with the return of sustained light, allowing the body to prepare for being awake.  Screen-media at night, jet lag or swing shifts interfere with the natural cycle of ambient light. For example, after exposing yourself to a sustained light phase for 24 hours, lowered levels of melatonin production could throw your sleep cycle off. Similarly, exposure to lights before bed can push your biological clock in the wrong direction — making your natural amount of melatonin production ineffective.  

Why Take Melatonin if it’s Naturally Produced?

Good question. The issue is whether melatonin production is happening at the time you need it to be.  A person day-sleeping in a room with light leaking through the curtains is probably going to be short on melatonin. Sometimes the cause is an actual production issue – for example, a circadian rhythm disorder like delayed sleep-wake phase disorder, in which the body’s natural melatonin levels fail to rise at a normal time, making it hard to fall asleep and hard to wake up in the morning.  A melatonin supplement could then essentially suggest your body towards a sleep phase. Taking the supplement at specific times thus engineers your sleep cycle and helps the body create a new cycle.  

Does it work?

Experts agree that taking melatonin supplements can have a big effect on treating circadian rhythm disorders. For example, delayed sleep-wake phase disorder, in which the body’s natural melatonin levels fail to rise at a normal time – making it hard to fall asleep and hard to wake up in the morning.  “Say you are an extreme night owl who only begins to feel sleepy at 4 a.m. and likes to sleep until noon. You could take low-dose melatonin (0.5 milligrams) at 11 p.m., well before your natural melatonin kicks in. Not only will it help you feel sleepy earlier, it will start to pull your internal clock earlier too,” says Cathy Goldstein, MD, an assistant professor of neurology at the University of Michigan Sleep Medicine Clinic.

The right dose of melatonin, taken at the right time, can indeed, repair a sleep schedule thrown off by jet lag or a long weekend filled with late nights. It can help with certain circadian rhythm disorders. And for some people, it can have a mild hypnotic effect. Alfred Lewy, MD, professor emeritus at Oregon Health & Science University and a pioneer in melatonin research, says he has found that a larger dose (3 milligrams or more) can have a hypnotic effect on about one-third of people who take it, making them feel sleepy. “It works for some people, but not for others,” he says. “You just have to try it and find out which one you are.”

Dr Dale Bredesen, mentioned in our blogs relative to reversing cognitive decline and dementia, specifically recommends melatonin in his book,The End of Alzheimer’s

Melatonin can have side effects. Some users of higher doses have reported side effects of headaches, nausea, next-day grogginess, vivid dreams, or hormone fluctuations. 

Should it be taken every day?

We don’t think so.  “A lot of people just take it right before they go to bed as if it were a sleeping pill,” says Michael Breus, PhD, a California-based clinical psychologist who specializes in sleep disorders. “Melatonin is a sleep regulator, not a sleep initiator,” says Breus, who is also the author of The Power of When. “People think of it as a vitamin, but in reality melatonin is a hormone,” says Craig Canapari, MD, director of the Pediatric Sleep Center at the Yale School of Medicine. “It’s not that simple.” The bottom line: For adults with body clocks thrown off for one reason or another, and for sleepless children with autism and ADHD, it is absolutely worth trying for a trial period, experts say. Canapari says: “Families need to make sleep a priority and not just try to medicate their way out of the problem.” 

By the way, while Melatonin supplements appear to be safe when used short-term, less is known about long-term safety.  Manufacturing standards and purity are also a concern; a recent study found that 71% of melatonin supplements surveyed did not contain exactly what they said on the label: Some had more than four times as much melatonin as they said they did, and 26% contained the powerful neurotransmitter serotonin. Let us review your supplier with you, or recommend/prescribe a specific product.   Most dietary supplements haven’t been tested in pregnant women and nursing mothers. If you’re pregnant or nursing, it’s especially important to see your doctor before taking any medication or supplement, including melatonin. Melatonin is not recommended in children under two years of age, and all child uses should reviewed by a doctor.

How can Blue Heron Chiropractic help with Melatonin Supplementation?

Very often we find out about melatonin use when we are meeting people for problems like back pain. Is the back pain causing the sleep disturbance or vice-versa? When we encounter people taking Melatonin daily, like a vitamin, we look into the root causes of their sleep disorder (or disturbance). The first thing we are going to do is look for postural, biomechanical, or functional issues. We may adjust the spine or mobilize even the cranial bones. We are going to review lifestyle issues that can get in the way of sleep. These include: dimming the lights at night, banning electronics use an hour before bedtime, or using a proper pillow. Typically, we are going to suggest specific dosage program and a time schedule for taking the supplement. We may even prescribe other supplements that will work together. We always check back so that as soon as your sleep schedule is back on track, the supplement can be discontinued.

Our properly balanced patients are not taking melatonin every day.

Blue Heron Chiropractic specializes in understanding and helping control both Old pain and New pain, Vitality, Motor Vehicle Accident Recovery and Work Injuries. Deep, restful sleep supports recovery for all of the above. Finally, if you have questions about how Dr. Dana Sibilla and Chiropractic can help you, or about exercise, optimal function, pain or pain management, schedule an appointment today.

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