What is melatonin? And how does it function?
Melatonin is a kind of hormone that is produced by your brain when exposed to darkness and can be produced naturally in your body. Its main function is to regulate the timing of your circadian rhythms (24-hour internal clock) and sleep. It is produced in the pineal gland in your brain. It can also be found in different parts of your body like eyes, bone marrow, and guts. However, when exposed to light at night the melatonin presence in the body diminishes. While an increase in melatonin helps your body to relax and works as a sleep hormone. Its major job is to just let your brain known that it is the time to sleep and not knock you out like a sleeping pill. Melatonin is also produced synthetically in the laboratory as a medicine to increase the level of melatonin. Melatonin comes as a pill but can also be placed in the cheek or under the tongue allowing your body to absorb the goodness of melatonin directly.
How does it work?
The human body is the most creative and magical thing that functions miraculously. Melatonin is one of the magical things that work in your body through circadian rhythm which is plays the role in regulating night and day cycles or sleep-wake cycles. In simpler words circadian rhythm behaves like an internal clock in your body, sending you signals when it’s time to sleep, wake, eat. Most people prefer extreme darkness to have a sound sleep which is a fantastic thing because our body is formed in such a way that works better around darkness by increasing the melatonin that signals the body to prepare for sleep. However, if you surround yourself with light at night then the body assumes to stay awake at night as light decreases the level of melatonin in our body. People with a sleep disorder are often associated with a low level of melatonin.
Melatonin can work effectively not only for insomnia but also for many other things like blood pressure, body temperature.
Melatonin also binds to receptors in the brain to help reduce nerve activity. It plays a vital role to reduce levels of dopamine, a hormone that lets you stay awake.
Conversely, light modulates melatonin production that signals your body to wake up.
People who have trouble falling asleep are caused by a lack of melatonin. A low level of melatonin can be an indication of stress, exposure to too much light at night (including blue light), lack of daylight, shift work, and aging.
Some factors affect your body and sleep schedule but that can help counter low levels of melatonin normalizing your internal clock by taking melatonin supplements.
Melatonin is beneficial in the aspect of treating:
- Jet lag
- Delayed Sleep-Wake Phase Disorder (DSWPD)
- Some sleep disorders in children
- Anxiety before and after surgery
Melatonin can be termed as a happy pill that keeps your sleep-in check. However, certain mild side effects are also associated with this sleep generating medicine, including:
Although any long-term side effects are still uncertain.
There are chances of melatonin supplement interacting with a variety of medications such as:
- Sleep aids or sedatives
- Blood thinners
- Blood pressure medication
- Oral contraceptives
- Diabetes medications
If you are under such medications, then it is crucial to have proper medical professional guidance to take melatonin supplements.
There are several concerns about too much usage of the melatonin supplement that can stop the hormone to produce naturally in the body. However, many studies determined that these facts as taking a melatonin supplement do not affect your naturally produce melatonin hormone.
Is melatonin safe for children?
Studies have shown usage of melatonin supplements for the short term does not appear to be a threat and is safe. However, information about the supplement for long-term usage is still under-discovered. Although there are no long-term side effects linked with this supplement there are certain things to be kept in mind regarding melatonin’s safety in children. Since melatonin is a hormone there might be a chance of it affecting hormonal development, including puberty, menstrual cycles, and overproduction of the hormone prolactin, however, these facts are still tentative.
Possible melatonin supplement side effects that can affect children have usually been mild such as:
- Increased bedwetting or urination in the evening
Melatonin and older adults
As per several research, melatonin secretion decreases as you age. Therefore, a natural decline can result in poor sleep-in elders. The ongoing research is still uncertain whether melatonin helps in improving sleep duration in older adults or not.
Melatonin may also help in people with mild cognitive impairment (MCI) or Alzheimer’s disease. Studies have come up with the fact that supplements can help improving sleep quality, feelings of “restlessness,” and morning alertness in individuals diagnosed with these conditions.
The concern of drowsiness should not be ignored as the effects can be prolonged in older adults.
Maximum usage of 1mg should be consumed 1hour prior to sleep with the guidance of your doctor.
Special Precautions and Warnings
Pregnancy: Melatonin is possibly unsafe for women who consume the supplement orally, injecting it in their body or high doses while trying to get pregnant. As there are chances of it making it hard to get pregnant having a similar effect to the contraceptives. Research is still in progress to conclude whether the low dosage is safe or not. Consulting a doctor would be safe for the expected mother as well as the baby.
Breast-feeding: It is best to stay away from melatonin due to a lack of safety information on the usage of melatonin while breastfeeding.
Children: Melatonin is perhaps safe if consumed orally and within the range of 3mg dosage in a day for children and 5mg in adolescence. It should only be consumed by children on a medical need and prescribed by their doctors.
Bleeding disorders: Melatonin can make bleeding worse in people affected with bleeding disorders.
Depression: There is a possibility that the dosage of melatonin can affect symptoms of depression making it worse.
High blood pressure: Avoid the usage of melatonin if you are already under certain medication to control blood pressure as melatonin might raise blood pressure.
Seizure disorders: The risk of seizure increases with the usage of melatonin.
Transplant recipients: People receiving transplants should avoid melatonin completely as it increases immune function and might interfere with immunosuppressive therapy.
Can you overdose on melatonin?
Melatonin is a hormone naturally produced substance need in the body, however overdose or excess of any supplement can disrupt the circadian rhythm (also called your sleep-wake cycle) of the body. There are chances to be likely get affected by the side effects.
So, yes, a person can precisely overdose on melatonin.
But the question arises of how to define if you are on an overdose of the supplement. An overdose of melatonin is not easy to define as the official standard safe dosage varies from person to person per their height, age, and weight.
Everybody works differently. Therefore, it is likely to happen that a person is sensitive to the effects of the supplement than the other and the triggering side effect on one person might be nothing for the other.
It is advisable for young children to avoid the supplement if not prescribed by the physician. Doses between 1 and 5mg can result in seizures or other complications.
However, in adults, the standard dose varies between 1 and 10 mg, and doses ranging from 30mg may have hazardous effects.
Generally, the doses should move up the ladder, starting from your dose to slowly and steadily move upwards if the supplementary is effective. Consult a doctor for any concerns or persistent problems.
How much melatonin should I take?
A safe dose of melatonin is the lowest dose which is effective in helping you fall asleep without causing side effects. Generally, a dose between 0.2 and 5 mg is considered a safe starting dose.
A safe dose will depend on your body weight, age, and sensitivity to the supplement
Symptoms of melatonin overdose
Overdosing any medication has its hazardous result. This hormone which is good for your sleep with mild side effects can have the opposite effect if taken excessively. As your body will change according to melatonin, the normal circadian rhythms will be disrupted making it hard to get a sound sleep. An overdose of melatonin can make you groggy and lethargic during the day and give you nightmares or enormous vivid dreams at night. You might also experience issues like:
- Irritability or anxiety
- Joint pain
For people having blood pressure, excess melatonin can be perilous. Your body’s natural capability of producing melatonin can be diminished if consumed with medications that lower blood pressure, such as calcium channel blockers and beta-blockers.
Always consult a doctor. Remember the supplement may give you some relief but consuming it excessively may not be the solution. Discuss with your professional healthcare about all the medication you consume, and the dosage of melatonin need for your body.
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