Are you misusing melatonin?
The process your body goes through when falling asleep or waking up can be complex, but there’s one simple thing that takes a leading role: melatonin.
Melatonin is a hormone made by your brain that helps your body understand when it’s time to go to bed and when it’s time to wake up. Melatonin levels rise at night to let your body know that it’s bedtime and lower during the day so your body knows to be active.
Synthetic melatonin is sold as an over-the-counter sleep aid in many stores. Many people take melatonin supplements to get better sleep at night, whether it is due to insomnia, jetlag, shift work or other reasons. Parents sometimes have their children take it to help them sleep.
However, melatonin can easily be misused. According to the National Sleep Foundation (NSF), melatonin is only helpful when the correct dosage, method and time of day it is taken are appropriate to the sleep problem. Taking it at the wrong time of day, for example, may alter the user’s “biological clock” and cause even more problems.
The NSF recommends seeing your physician first if you feel you have a sleep problem serious enough to need treatment. Your doctor can help you understand the cause of your problem and ensure that it is treated properly.
Dr. Raju Shanmugam, family medicine physician with Advocate Medical Group in Bloomington, Ill., says that he recommends to his adult patients with sleep problems “a starting melatonin dose of 0.3 mg (or 0.2 mg in patients weighing less than 120 pounds), taken at or soon before bedtime.” If improvement isn’t seen in a week’s time, he usually doubles the bedtime dose or suggests that the patient take a second 0.3 mg dose if still awake after 10 to 15 minutes of trying to fall asleep.
“If the patient initially responds to the melatonin but stops responding well after a few weeks, we suggest taking a “drug holiday” and then restarting the melatonin at the initial dose,” he says.
Instead of relying on melatonin as a sleep aid, Dr. Shanmugam advises patients to:
- Maintain a regular sleep schedule.
- Avoid caffeinated beverages after lunch.
- Avoid alcohol and smoking in the evening.
- Resolve concerns or worries before bedtime.
- Exercise for at least 20 minutes each day (preferably more than four hours prior to bedtime).
- Avoid taking daytime naps.
Dr. Shanmugam also recommends going to bed only when sleepy and using the bed for just sleep and sex.
In many cases, according to Dr. Shanmugam, if these guidelines are followed, your sleeping patterns will return to normal. However, if the problem still persists, then perhaps talking with your doctor about melatonin or another sleep aid can be useful.
About the Author
health enews staff is a group of experienced writers from our Advocate Health Care and Aurora Health Care sites, which also includes freelance or intern writers.