Approximately 1 in every 3 adults in the US takes melatonin daily, according to a sleep foundation study. The media buzz about the role of melatonin supplements as a sleep aid and their availability over the counter are partly responsible for this steep rise in its use.
If you are having trouble falling asleep, taking melatonin supplements as a sleep aid can be tempting, but are they healthy?
Reliance on melatonin to sleep poses a health risk for most people, so considering a safer alternative is imperative.
How melatonin helps people sleep
As a response to darkness in the evenings, the human brain releases melatonin hormone a few hours before bedtime. Melatonin acts on the brain center that controls the sleep-wake cycle.
Then it stimulates the sleep-inducing signals in the brain’s internal clock control center and inhibits the wake-promoting signals.
In humans, melatonin secretion follows a rhythmic pattern that accounts for the sleep-wake cycles. Melatonin secretion peaks by 2-4 am and declines in the morning when humans are exposed to light.
It is crucial to reduce your light exposure a few hours before you sleep to minimize the disruption of melatonin secretion in the brain.
The health risks of melatonin supplements
Melatonin supplements can act as a sleep aid, but reliance on these medications to sleep has its downsides.
Disrupts the body’s circadian rhythm
The body’s secretion of melatonin is one of the primary regulators of the 24-hour body clock or circadian rhythm. Daily intake of melatonin supplements can reset the body’s sleep-wake signals if taken at the wrong times and above therapeutic doses.
As a result, people who rely on melatonin supplements may become drowsy during the day instead of being awake.
Interaction with other medications
Melatonin supplements can interact with some medications and trigger the onset of unwanted adverse effects. Individuals on drugs such as blood thinners and antiseizure medications are at risk of harmful drug-drug interactions if they take melatonin supplements without medical supervision.
Unwanted side effects
Health authorities don’t regulate the sale of melatonin supplements, so most individuals are typically exposed to above-normal doses. The intake of high doses of melatonin supplements increases the risk of the following side effects:
- Daytime drowsiness
Inadvertent exposure to toxic substances
A 2017 study on melatonin supplements found that 71% of the supplements analyzed had chemical contaminants and other components not listed on the label. This questions the quality of most melatonin supplements out there. Individuals who take melatonin supplements regularly may be prone to the health dangers of toxic chemicals in the supplements.
Safety concerns for vulnerable individuals
Melatonin supplements may be unsafe for vulnerable people such as elderly people, young children, and pregnant women because of their unique physiological processes. For instance, ingested melatonin can last longer in older people and predispose them to adverse effects.
Melatonin supplement alternatives for better sleep
Apart from melatonin supplements, there are safer natural supplements and interventions to help you sleep better.
Natural supplements containing minerals such as magnesium could help you sleep better. A study found that the intake of magnesium supplements was effective in people with insomnia.
Aromatherapy is a complementary and alternative therapy that involves inhaling or massaging essential oils or herbal extracts from natural plants to your skin. Medical experts believe the psychological and relaxing effects of these essential oils make them a potential sleep aid.
Maintaining a consistent sleep-wake routine
A regular sleep-wake routine configures your body’s internal clock system to help you sleep and wake up easily.
The Eight Sleep Pod
Sleeping on the Eight Sleep Pod soothes and calms your nerves to help you fall asleep. In an Eight Sleep clinical study, members like you reported an 11% increase in perceived calmness of their sleep after one week on the Pod. Plus, their sleep quality improved — by way of 44% faster sleep onset (how quickly they fall asleep) and 23% fewer mid-night wake ups.
Meditation reduces anxiety and relaxes you so you can fall asleep easily. Deep breathing is one of the common techniques for sleep meditation. To practice deep breathing, lie quietly and focus on counting your breaths as you breathe in and out.