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Melatonin as a Treatment for Sleep Disorders – Tips and Advice

Melatonin is a naturally occurring hormone which regulates our circadian rhythm and makes us drowsy. If your circadian rhythm is disrupted, or you can't sleep, taking melatonin may be an option.  Here are our best melatonin tips, as well as tips to help you sleep better.

Melatonin is naturally present in the body, and is produced in the pineal gland, or epiphysis cerebri, found in the brain. It's the hormone which helps regulate our circadian rhythm and makes us drowsy. The secretion of melatonin is regulated by light and darkness and that's why it's affected by the changes that occur during summer and winter. When it's light outside, the production of melatonin stops, and when darkness falls it increases again, making us feel drowsy. This drowsiness helps the body recognise that it is time to go to sleep . That's why people who live in northern Europe are particularly sensitive to melatonin, since the changing seasons bring a huge variation in light and darkness levels.

If the body produces too little melatonin, or if there is an imbalance in the level of this hormone, it can be hard to fall asleep. Also, as we get older the body's production of melatonin naturally decreases. This is partly why many older people don't sleep well. Any melatonin you take to help you sleep is synthetically produced.

Melatonin and Weight Loss

Melatonin has been linked to weight loss, even though it is not a slimming product. This is because it's scientifically proven that difficulty sleeping can lead to weight gain. So if taking melatonin improves sleep, it might make it easier to lose weight in combination with a healthy diet and exercise.  A good night's sleep can help you relax, reset your brain and encourage cell-repair.

Melatonin Is Classified as a Drug

Opinions differ as to how easily available melatonin should be.

In Sweden, for example, it is classified as a drug available on prescription, whereas in the US it is considered a dietary supplement for insomnia. Nowadays, small amounts can be purchased in Sweden without a prescription, to alleviate jetlag. It's also used by shift workers when they need help to reset between day and night shifts. Just one pill makes it easier to fall asleep at night.

Melatonin for Children With Sleep Problems

Melatonin is a drug which is increasing in popularity, despite the lack of knowledge about possible side-effects. The number of melatonin prescriptions in the U.K. increased tenfold in the years between 1998 and 2018..

Melatonin is even prescribed to children and young adults even though it is not included in current recommendations for doctors. Many American studies have shown that melatonin can help children and young adults with sleeping problems, not only to help them fall asleep in the evening, but also to help them sleep longer at night..

This therapy has led to noticeable developments in the treatment of young people with ADHD and neuropsychiatric disorders,as they often suffer from sleep problems. It's also during adolescence that ”Delayed sleep phase syndrome” (DSPS) can cause problems, as it results in a shift of the circadian rhythm, making it harder to fall asleep at night. When the alarm clock goes off in the morning and it's time to go to school, teenagers suffering from this syndrome are completely exhausted. Melatonin can alleviate this problem by helping them fall asleep earlier.

Side-Effects of Melatonin

In some countries melatonin has been used as sleep medication for a long time. So far no long-term side-effects have been found, and there have been no indications of addiction. It has already been widely used for over ten years in the USA by children and adults.

However, melatonin doesn't work for everyone, and sometimes it can be hard to determine how much of an effect it actually has. According to certain studies, the time it takes to fall asleep decreased only slightly. The drug seemed to be better at alleviating jet lag. Other studies suggested that it was the placebo effect that changed sleep patterns. Despite the need for further, and more detailed, studies, especially into the possible long-term effects, millions of people around the world continue to take melatonin every day.

There have also been discussions about whether melatonin could affect sexual development and reproduction.

Common Short-Term Side-Effects of Melatonin

  • Fatigue and drowsiness
  • Migraine
  • Dizziness
  • Stomach pain
  • Loss of appetite
  • Constipation
  • Dry mouth

According to healthcare providers, you should take the lowest recommended dose of melatonin for no longer than four weeks at a time. The effect of sleeping medication decreases noticeably over time. Therefore, melatonin works better if you don't take it every night or for a prolonged period of time. Melatonin is primarily intended to help with sleep problems caused by jet lag and shift work.

Melatonin and Screens

The blue light that comes from our mobile phones and tablets is bad for our sleep. It tricks our inbuilt biological clocks into thinking it's lighter outside than it actually is, disrupting our circadian rhythm. The light from screens seems to slow down the secretion of melatonin, as the brain is confused by the light. That's why if we lie in bed looking at our phones in the evening we may end up falling asleep later than usual.

How to Increase Your Melatonin Levels Naturally

The more melatonin is secreted, the easier it is to fall asleep in the evening. Production of melatonin can decrease from as early as your 50s. That's why it might be a good idea to follow these few simple tips to increase melatonin naturally occurring in your body.

  • Enjoy the daylight. Being outdoors during the daytime helps your body produce melatonin in the evening.
  • Exercising in the morning and meditating in the evening can decrease stress levels and increase melatonin production. It's important for children to go out and play in the daylight and then have a quiet, calm period of reading and relaxing before bedtime to improve their sleep.
  • The brain loves a structured day, so follow a clear routine. Regular meal times and bedtimes can help to cope with stress. Sleep schedules can also work well for young children.
  • Take a warm bath before bedtime.
  • Sleep in a dark room. Avoid nightlights, mobile phones and tablets in the bedroom.
  • Don't drink alcohol late at night, as this can also lower melatonin levels..
  • Drink milk, as this naturally contains melatonin. A warm glass of milk can help you fall asleep.
  • Coffee also contains a lot of melatonin. Unfortunately, this is counteracted by the caffeine in coffee, which makes us alert. So try drinking a cup of decaffeinated coffee in the evening instead.
  • A handful of almonds. Almonds contain melatonin, magnesium and calcium, which work together to help us sleep better.
  • Eat food that contains the amino acid tryptophan, as this produces melatonin. For example eggs, meat, hard cheese, nuts, pumpkin seeds and cherries.


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