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Melatonin for sleep: hype or helpful?

When it comes to sleep, I don't think there's a more powerful way to heal our bodies.

And yet so many of us struggle with getting enough of this free resource!

Not surprisingly, sales of melatonin are on the rise. You've likely heard that melatonin is a useful supplement if you're travelling between time zones and jet-lagged, or if you're a shift worker. And if melatonin works to restore the sleep-wake cycle in these populations, the question is, will it work to support other types of insomnia and sleep issues? Read this interesting article here - and see my facts and tips below!

Melatonin facts:

Physiologic doses are about 0.3mg daily, in the evening. Melatonin is naturally stimulated by the fading of daylight. It is also disrupted by the use of bright artificial lighting and computer/phone screens. And, if you're stressed, high levels of cortisol can suppress melatonin production - just think about how sleep can be tricky the night before you have a big presentation or event.

What I notice most often in my practice is a misuse of melatonin. People will take melatonin too late at night, in doses that are too high, and wind up feeling worse the next morning, because the excess melatonin is still in their system telling them to sleep. Excess melatonin can also cause excess dreaming/nightmares, nausea, dizziness, muscle aches and headaches.

Melatonin tips for use:

If you're having a hard time falling asleep at your desired bedtime, melatonin may be for you.

Always speak with a professional about your sleep problems to help ensure you are getting the best treatment for you. There are many ways to support a healthy sleep cycle, including building a healthy evening routine, getting exposure to bright light in the morning, acupuncture, and herbs to support stress.

Lab investigations into hormonal function can also be extremely helpful. For example, low vitamin D levels affect melatonin production, low serotonin can lead to insufficient melatonin production and the stress hormone cortisol inhibits melatonin. Cortisol is also raised by chronic inflammation and poor insulin regulation

. Some medications also lower levels of melatonin. Also, melatonin levels decline with age.

Generally, if you want to experiment with melatonin, try following these tips:

  • make sure you're getting to bed early enough - so you will get at least 7-8 hours of sleep

  • buy melatonin from a professional brand, and in a form that you can dose low enough - I usually recommend a liquid or a spray

  • start with a small dose of melatonin (I recommend starting at physiologic levels) and increase slowly every few days to make sure you only take what you need - no more than 3-5mg daily

  • take your melatonin 1-2 hours before bed time - usually that's 8-9pm

  • if you do wake up feeling groggy after using melatonin, you may need to adjust step 2 or 3, but discontinue if this doesn't improve after adjusting

  • do not use for more than 12 weeks

Curious about natural sources of melatonin?

Did you know that 15g of pistachios - or 25 nuts - provides the physiologic dose of melatonin, 0.3mg? Other foods with melatonin include cherries, brown rice, pineapple and oranges.

As always, these tips are for general informational purposes and not intended as medical advice! I highly recommend seeking out professional support if you have any sleep concerns or are considering using melatonin.

Dr. Natalie Senst, ND

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