When you can’t turn your brain off to relax at the end of the day, it can be hard to fall to sleep. Trust us—we’ve been there and it’s no fun (especially the next morning). Plus, when you wake up after a night of bad sleep or don’t get enough sleep, it can be hard to start your day. There are so many sleep remedies, from sleepy teas to nighttime yoga, but have you ever considered trying melatonin?
What is Melatonin?
Melatonin is a hormone that controls the sleep-wake cycles, also known as your circadian rhythms, in your body. So, it tells you when you’re tired and when it’s time to wake up. Basically, the more melatonin in your body, the sleepier you feel.
How is melatonin made? In your brain, the pineal gland (which is right above the center of your brain) produces melatonin. This gland is shaped like a pinecone and only about the size of pea, but it has a big job—it’s responsible for your sleep cycles.
Besides being controlled by your pineal gland, melatonin levels can increase and decrease based on external factors like sunlight exposure and foods like walnuts, tomatoes, olives, rice, strawberries, cherries and cow’s milk (all of these foods contain levels of melatonin).
How Does Melatonin Work?
How does your body know when to produce melatonin and how does it know how much to make? The amount of light you’re exposed to during the day and your body’s circadian rhythm, which is your internal clock, work together to control how much melatonin your body produces. In the evening after the sun sets, the darkness signals your body to release melatonin, getting you ready for sleep. While you sleep, your melatonin levels stay pretty high and keep you asleep until the sun comes up. Then, as it gets brighter, your melatonin levels drop and you wake up to start your day.
This is why, during Winter months when the days are shorter (and there’s less sunlight), you may feel sleepier and need more sleep. Since there’s less daylight, your body may produce more melatonin or release melatonin earlier in the day than it does in the summer months. But your pineal gland can be easily tricked. Ever wonder why you get sleepier in a dimly lit room or dark environment, even if the sun is shining outside? Or why you can sleep late into the afternoon if your room stays dark (thank you blackout curtains)? Even if it’s not nighttime, your pineal gland will release melatonin if you’re in dim lighting. That’s also why it’s hard to sleep with a light on. The artificial light in your office or bedroom is often bright enough to prevent your body from releasing melatonin.
Melatonin and Sleep
The hormone melatonin has a sleep-inducing effect and can help you feel calmer. Like we mentioned before, the more melatonin your body produces, the sleepier and more relaxed you feel.
Not only is melatonin naturally occurring in your body, it’s also available as a supplement—in pills, liquids, chewables and even patches. If you’re going to add a melatonin supplement to your sleep routine, experts recommend taking it 30 to 60 minutes before you go to bed. This gives the supplement time to do its job so that you’re sleepy and relaxed at bedtime.
It’s important that you know that melatonin supplements are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) because it’s not classified as a drug, so be really careful when figuring out your correct dosage. The dosage that works for your partner may not work for you, and vice versa, so talk to a professional to get the right dosage of melatonin to help you get better rest.
Is Melatonin Safe to Take?
Melatonin that naturally occurs in your body is, of course, safe. But if you’re going to take a melatonin supplement, you want to make sure you’re doing it safely—talk to your doctor and find the right dosage and method for you. As we mentioned, melatonin is not regulated by the FDA, so the “recommended dosage” could vary between products. Because of this, you also want to make sure you are buying from a reputable source. (Again, this is where consulting your doctor can be helpful.)
The safest dosage of melatonin is the lowest amount you can take that’s still effective in helping you fall to sleep. We know, that’s not super helpful, but the right dosage for you depends on a few things—namely, your weight, age and melatonin sensitivity. So, that’s why it’s recommended that you talk to a professional. A small dose (somewhere between .2 to 5 milligrams) is usually a good place to start. You want to benefit from its sleepy effects, but you don’t want to take too much.
If you take too much melatonin, it can have a negative effect on your circadian rhythm (a.k.a. mess up your sleep schedule) and cause other side effects, like nausea, dizziness, headaches, anxiety, diarrhea and joint pain. A melatonin overdose can also affect your blood pressure, so if you’re on blood pressure medication, talk to your doctor before taking melatonin. Some other medications and substances increase your melatonin levels, too, so if you want to add melatonin to your nighttime routine, yep, you guessed it—make sure you consult with your doctor. Oh, and since melatonin helps make you sleepy, you shouldn’t take it with caffeine (which makes you feel alert) or alcohol either.
When Should you Consider Taking Melatonin?
You may consider adding melatonin to your nighttime routine if you continually have trouble winding down or can’t relax after a long day. Stress, anxiety or that can’t-turn-your-brain-off feeling may cause you to have trouble falling asleep. In that case, it’s recommended to take melatonin 30-60 minutes before bed. Maybe you’re a night owl or suffer from late onset sleep disorder, where your sleep is delayed 2 (or more) hours past most people’s bedtimes. Then, you should take melatonin 2-3 hours before bed. And remember, the smallest effective dosage of melatonin is the safest dosage, so start small and add more as needed.
Melatonin can help you get the sleep you need to feel rested and recharged when you wake up. After all, sleep is important, just like food and water. When you sleep, your body physically recharges—it goes through chemical processes that help you feel restored when you wake up. So, it’s no surprise that lack of sleep can have serious side effects, including lack of focus, anxiety, high blood pressure, mood swings and weight gain. If you want to try adjusting your sleep schedule to get better rest but don’t think melatonin is for you, here are a few other things you can try in your bedtime routine:
- Create a nighttime routine and stick to it (as best you can). Eat dinner, clean up the kitchen, take a bath, read a book, go to bed, repeat the next night. Try going to bed and waking up at the same time every day to train your body and create a habit.
- Try meditation or yoga for at least 10 minutes close to bedtime.
- Eat foods high in tryptophan (like turkey or cottage cheese) and drink sleep-inducing tea (or other drinks) as part of your nighttime routine.
- Make sure your sleeping environment is as dark as possible. Remember, light flips your pineal gland off, so that it stops producing melatonin, and that’s not what you want when it’s time for sleep.
- Try sleeping with white noise. This creates a veil of noise as you sleep, so outside sounds (like the early morning garbage truck or your roommate making breakfast) don’t wake you up before your alarm does.
If you think you suffer from insomnia, shift work sleep disorder or another chronic sleep problem, talk to a doctor first. They’ll be able to assess your symptoms and prescribe the most effective treatment for you.
Of course, if you're having trouble sleeping, it may be a simpler fix: a new mattress. At Leesa, better rest is kind of our thing. That's why we have two (awesome) mattresses, as well as sleep accessories like pillows, a blanket, sheets and bed bases to help you create a relaxing, cozy bedroom sanctuary to fall asleep faster and get better, deeper rest.