Is Melatonin Really a Sleeping Pill?

There are reports that more and more Americans were using twice the amount of melatonin pill to fall asleep than they were over 10 years ago, but is melatonin really a sleeping pill? Most people think of melatonin as a sleeping medication because of the way it is marketed to consumers, but melatonin is a hormone that is naturally produced by a pinecone-shaped gland in the middle of the brain called pineal – about the size of a rice grain. This hormone plays a vital role in the onset of sleep and the regulation of sleep-wake cycles – circadian rhythm.

Research on the use of melatonin shows that melatonin can help regulate circadian rhythm sleep disorders both in children and adults. Short-term use of melatonin pill appears to be safe according to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, but more research needs to be done on the overall long-term effect.

Melatonin production decreases during exposure to any light – sunrise – and increases in darkness, therefore, regulating the circadian rhythms. Our brains naturally make melatonin, but as we grow older, the amount of melatonin we produce begins to decline gradually – leading to reduced quality and quantity of sleep.

Before taking any melatonin supplement to address any sleeping issues, it is important to consider making lifestyle changes that make it difficult to fall asleep quickly such as avoiding stimulants – caffeine containing products – 6 hours before bedtime and resisting the urge to use your phone at bedtime because the light from your phone can reduce your natural melatonin production needed to fall asleep.

After making lifestyle changes, and you still feel the need to take melatonin as a supplement, over-the-counter melatonin supplements can help replenish any melatonin deficiency, especially if taken about 30 minutes to an hour before bedtime.

My recommendation is to start with the smallest available dosage like 1 milligram and gradually increase the dose from there to not more than 5 milligram per day dosage for short term treatment.

Always consult with your healthcare provider before starting any dietary supplements including melatonin to avoid any possible side effects and interactions with other medications you may be taking.

Dr. Eddy Airiohuodion, PharmD, R.Ph

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