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Melatonin – Pros, Cons, Dosage and Precautions

Last Updated on April 21, 2020 by Ashwini G

Probably one of the worst experiences in life is the time when we want to sleep and are unable to do so. There are a number of things that you might have resorted to at night time, and this includes looking up things to do at 3 am and finding ways to sleep, such as turning your electronics off and taking the help of sleep medication.  In such times, melatonin supplements might be the best thing you can resort to. Melatonin is actually a hormone that is produced by the pineal gland of the brain. Your body begins to produce it organically once the sun goes down, which is why you are usually sleepy at around the same time in the night. It is also recommended that you sleep in a cool and dark environment because it induces adequate melatonin production until the morning hours. This ensures that you sleep well through the night, which is very important in the long run.

Availability of Melatonin in India

In India, Melatonin pills are available over the counter and can be easily found in the vitamins section. Thus, they are pretty much considered to be safe mainstays. Naturally, melatonin is produced by the pineal gland in the brain. It is produced with the help of the amino acid tryptophan, which is found in certain types of meat, vegetables, fruits, and grains. Internal medicine specialist Dr. Anil G Ballani has said that the production of melatonin is influenced by the presence of environmental light. It is suggested that the primary purpose of melatonin and its supplements is treating sleep disorders, and it might just be a much safer option than sleeping pills. Melatonin can also be purchased online in India through various sites such as Amazon, Flipkart, HealthKart, etc.

How Does Melatonin Work?

Melatonin works by correcting your circadian rhythm. The circadian rhythm is a 24-hour cycle of all the physiological processes that go on in your body- this is the clock for your internal body. It is responsible for the time you sleep, eat, wake up, and drink. A change in the sleep cycle might occur when you have traveled too much or had to work during unexpected hours. For instance, jet lag occurs when the circadian rhythm is disturbed after you visit a country that has a different time zone. In this case, your circadian rhythm changes and causes you to experience jet lag. The melatonin levels in your body begin to rise once it turns dark outside; this is a signal for the body to relax and go to sleep. Melatonin also binds the receptors of your body and helps you unwind. For example, melatonin binds itself to your receptors in the brain and greatly lessens the nerve activity. It also reduces the amount of dopamine in your eyes and allows you to fall asleep when the time is right. The light goes on to suppress the amount of melatonin produced in the body—this way, your body finds out when it’s the right time to wake up with the daylight. Because melatonin helps prepare your body for sleep, it might be difficult to get some shut-eye for people who do not produce enough of it. There are a number of reasons for low levels of melatonin in the nighttime.

Melatonin Dosage

There is no such thing as proper and ideal dosage when we talk about melatonin supplements. This is because the reason for taking these supplements differs from person to person. Consulting physician Dr. Sunil Dalvi has said that the dosage varies from .2 to 20 mg and changes from one person to another along with the duration for which it is taken. In order to treat insomnia, the causes which are perpetuating it need to be determined before medication is started. Dr. Dalvi strongly recommends seeing a doctor before deciding the dosage. The following doses are usually recommended, based on significant scientific research

Doses for Sleep and Insomnia

It is recommended that you take anything between .1 mg to 0.5 mg thirty minutes prior to your bedtime. It is suggested that although melatonin promotes sleep, it might not help maintain it and cause you to wake up early in the morning.

Doses for Shift-Work Sleep Disorder

For people suffering from shift- work sleep disorder, the recommended dosage is between 1.8 mg to 3 mg. This should be taken thirty minutes before your bedtime. Melatonin will not necessarily lead to improved levels of alertness during the work shift at night and improves daytime sleep only by 30 minutes.

Doses for Delayed Sleep Phase Disorder

Delayed Sleep Phase Disorder mostly occurs in adolescents, mainly due to reduced production, which leads to melanin deficiency at this age. The onset of sleep is delayed by 3-6 hours, and DPSD can go on to negatively affect daily activities, concentration, and school performance. It is recommended that you get these disorders evaluated by a physician. For DSPD, 1 mg of melatonin should be taken four to six hours before your bedtime. Once you set a routine at night, you can start taking 0.5 mg of melatonin two hours before bedtime.

Other Recommended Doses

  • If you have a disorder that affects the time at which you sleep and wake up in the morning, then the prescribed dosage is anywhere between .5 mg to 5 mg, particularly if you plan on taking it for a long time. In blind people, the dosage can be increased to 10 mg.
  • If you have trouble sleeping at the conventional bedtime, then you should take melatonin supplements between .3mg to 5mg for about 9 months.
  • In case you are taking blood pressure medicine and are affected by the beta-blocker induced syndrome, then melatonin should be taken daily for four weeks in doses that are not more than 5mg.
  • In case you feel jet-lagged, you should take melatonin between 5-8 mg at bedtime on the day that you arrive at your destination. This dosage needs to be continued for a time period of 2 to 5 days. You might want to take lower doses of .5-3 mg when you want to avoid the side effects of high doses.

Melatonin for Children- Use and Dosage

Melatonin is only a short term way to help children get rest while you are trying to establish a bedtime schedule for them. Melatonin might also help some older children as well as teens in resetting their sleep schedule after events like summer vacations, breaks, or other interruptions in the sleep cycle. Getting enough sleep at night is hard for children who have naturally turbulent sleep cycles and need to wake up early in the morning. Melatonin also helps children who have neurodevelopmental disorders such as the likes of autism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). In such cases, their use should be monitored by a pediatrician. Melatonin comes in a number of forms, including liquids, chewables, capsules, tablets, and gummies. There is no particular guideline on melatonin dosage for children, but it is generally recommended that you start with the lowest dosage. Most children will respond to low doses (0.5 mg or 1 mg)- this should be taken 30-90 minutes before bedtime. Even children who are not benefitting from melatonin because of medical conditions like ADHD do not need more than 3-6 mg of melatonin.

What to Keep in Mind When Buying Melatonin?

  • Initially, you must start out by purchasing a low dosage of melatonin, particularly if you haven’t taken supplements in any form before. Follow all the instructions given by your doctor or pharmacist and try to purchase melatonin supplements between 0.5-1 mg. Take a higher dose only if it has been recommended by your physician.
  • You should consider buying melatonin in case you have traveled for long hours and are now experiencing jet lag. Melatonin is greatly helpful in giving your body rest by helping it fall asleep and recover.
  • In case your body shows an adverse reaction to melatonin, you should consider visiting a doctor at the right time. If your sleeping problems remain unsolved even after taking melatonin regularly, you should see a doctor for a professional opinion.
  • If you wish for your children to use melatonin supplements, first consult their doctor or pediatrician.
  • Don’t take melatonin before you engage in activities that need your full focus and attention- like driving and working out. Melatonin encourages your body to sleep and gets rest; thus, it cannot be taken before active work. Studies have shown, however, that melatonin has not had many adverse effects on driving.
  • Do not buy melatonin in large quantities from the pharmacy or drug store. In the beginning, you should start out by taking low doses of this supplement and maintain a supply of not more than two weeks. After a certain time, the body grows immune to the effects of melatonin, which you should try and avoid.
  • Do not take multiple pills of melatonin, or supplements of melatonin in different forms, before you go to bed. This might lead to overdosing and have some adverse effects on your body.
  • Don’t take melatonin in case you’re breastfeeding, are pregnant, or have to take blood thinners. Since melatonin is a hormone, it might react with the medications you’re taking and harm the child in utero or through breast milk.

Melatonin – Precautions to Take

  • Do not drive or operate any kind of machinery for at least four hours after you have taken melatonin.
  • Do not take medicine along with other prescription medications and over the counter drugs. If you want to take additional dietary supplements along with melatonin, you should consider asking a doctor, medic, or a pharmacist.
  • Try not to take alcohol while you take this medication.
  • Avoid taking coffee, tea, energy drinks, cola, or other caffeinated drinks as they may counter the effects that melatonin is supposed to have in your body.
  • Do not take melatonin along with sedatives and CNS depressants. Melatonin causes drowsiness and sleepiness when it is taken along with sedatives such as clonazepam and zolpidem etc.
  • Do not take melatonin while you’re taking anti-contraceptives because they increase the natural levels of melatonin in your body and might cause you to have more melatonin that is healthy.
  • Immunosuppressants that suppress the immune system in operations and transplants cannot be mixed with melatonin.
  • Melatonin is sometimes responsible for increasing the blood sugar levels in your body, and cannot be mixed with medications for diabetes as the two may interact in an unhealthy manner. If you want to take melatonin while you’re being medicated for diabetes, you should consider meeting your doctor to alter the dosage of your medicine.

Are There Any Side Effects of Using Melatonin?

Few studies have confirmed that there are no serious side effects to using melatonin. It does not cause any withdrawal symptoms or dependence. Some medical practitioners have expressed concern that supplements might reduce the organic production of melatonin in our bodies, but short term studies have not shown such effects. Other side effects of melatonin include-

Oral Consumption – When melatonin is consumed orally, it can cause mild side effects such as headache, short term depression, daytime sleepiness, irritability, stomach cramps, and dizziness. Thus, it is advised that you don’t use or operate any machinery for 4-5 hours after you have consumed melatonin.

Applied Directly to the Skin– Melatonin is considered very safe for application on skin and body parts. If your body does show an allergic reaction, visit a doctor immediately.

While Pregnant – Melatonin is not considered safe for women who have just conceived or are a good way into their pregnancy. In this case, it should not be taken by mouth or via injections, because it has the same effect on the body as birth control pills. While breastfeeding- It is best not to take any supplements of melatonin while you’re breastfeeding.

Depression– Melatonin might worsen the symptoms of depression.

Diabetes- Melatonin increases blood sugar levels in people who are diabetic. It is advised that you watch your blood sugar levels if you’re taking melatonin.

High Blood Pressure- Melatonin is sometimes known to raise the blood pressure in people who are taking medication. But studies show that for male patients, melatonin might reduce blood pressure.

After Transplants- Melatonin is known to increase the immune function of the body and can go on to interfere with the immunosuppressive therapy, which follows a transplant.

Benefits of Melatonin

Helps Sleep Better

Melatonin is commonly known as the sleep hormone and rightly so. It happens to be one of the most popular sleep aids and is one of the most effective natural remedies for treating sleep disorders like insomnia. Multiple studies have shown that melatonin can promote better sleep. One such study on 50 people who were suffering from insomnia has shown that taking melatonin two hours prior to bedtime helps people fall asleep and improves their overall sleep quality. Another analysis that involved 19 studies conducted on children and adults, with sleep disorders, has brought to light that melatonin greatly reduces the time taken by people to fall asleep. Not only this, but melatonin also increases the total sleep time and improves overall sleep quality.

Improves Cases of Seasonal Depression

Seasonal affective disorder or SAD, otherwise known as seasonal depression, is another common condition that affects as much as 10% of the population worldwide. This form of depression is linked to changes in seasons and occurs every year at around the same time, mostly occurring between late fall and early winter. Some research has also indicated that it could be linked to the changes in our circadian rhythm, which are caused because of seasonal light changes. Melatonin plays a great role in regulating the circadian rhythm, and low doses of this supplement are often used by people to decrease the symptoms of seasonal depression. According to a study including 68 people, some alterations in circadian rhythm have also shown to affect the intensity of seasonal depression. However, taking melatonin capsules regularly greatly helps improve the symptoms of seasonal depression. However, other research remains inconclusive on the effects of melatonin in cases of seasonal depression. For instance, a review of eight studies has shown that melatonin is not effective in reducing the symptoms of mood disorders such as SAD, depression, and bipolar disorder.

Helps Increase the Levels of Human Growth Hormone

Human Growth Hormone (HGH) is a very vital hormone for growth and cellular regeneration. People who have shown an increase in the levels of HGH in their bodies also appear to have increased strength and muscle mass. It has been found that using melatonin supplements might increase the levels of HGH in men. A small study of eight men has also discovered that both low and high doses of 0.5 mg and 5 mg respectively, are effective at increasing HGH levels in the body. Another study of 32 men has also shown similar results. However, we still need large scale studies to understand exactly how melatonin affects levels of HGH in the general population.

Helps Promote Eye Health

Melatonin is rich in antioxidants, which helps prevent cell damage and keeps your eyes healthy. In fact, research has also suggested that melatonin can be beneficial when treating conditions such as glaucoma and age-related macular degeneration (AMD). In a study involving 100 people with AMD, people were given 3 mg of melatonin for 6-24 months. This greatly helped in protecting the retina and delaying age-related damage while also providing visual clarity.

Medical Uses of Melatonin

  • Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome- This syndrome is marked by a change in conventional bedtime. Melatonin is usually administered by mouth in case of this disorder to help reduce the amount of time that it takes to fall asleep. Melatonin is especially helpful for young adults and children with this syndrome. However, it can easily be used by anyone who finds it difficult to fall asleep.
  • Non-24-Hour Sleep-Wake Disorder – Melatonin is greatly helpful in the case of children and adults who are blind and find it difficult to fall asleep at the usual time.
  • Beta Blocker-Induced Insomnia – Sleep disturbances that sometimes occur because of blood pressure medicines may also be cured by melatonin. Drugs that act as beta-blockers tend to lower the level of melatonin in our bodies; thus, people who take drugs like atenolol and propranolol also use melatonin supplements to maintain a healthy sleep cycle.
  • High Blood Pressure – After you take a controlled release form of melatonin before bedtime, your blood pressure levels can be lowered to natural levels. However, immediate-release formulas of melatonin are not as effective.
  • Jet-Lag- Most research has shown that melatonin greatly helps improve symptoms of jet lag, such as lack in focus and coordination of movements. It also helps people who show symptoms like tiredness and daytime sleepiness.
  • Sunburn – Melatonin gel can be applied to the skin before exposure to the sun. This helps reduce your sunburn to a large extent, especially in people who have sensitive skin. However, it is not a very effective sunscreen for people whose skin is not as sensitive.
  • Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder – Research has also shown that melatonin goes on to reduce symptoms of insomnia in children who are suffering from disorders like ADHD, which require taking stimulants. However, improved sleep does not necessarily mean that there will be an improvement in ADHD, as well.
  • Solid Tumors – These are cancerous growths in the body without clogged liquid or cysts. Melatonin, when taken in large quantities and incorporated with chemotherapy and other treatments of cancer, reduced the tumor size and also better the survival rate of patients.
  • Temperomandibular Disorders (TMD) – Temporomandibular Disorder is a very painful group of conditions that affect the jaw muscle and joint. Research has shown taking melatonin every day before bedtime for a minimum of four weeks can help reduce the pain of TMD by as much as 44% and increases the tolerance to pain among women by 39%.

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