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Melatonin: Not Just for Sleep

If you are having trouble sleeping, your doctor may recommend melatonin supplements. Low levels of melatonin can cause insomnia. What many people don't know is that melatonin is not just for sleeping. It also has numerous other health benefits.

What is Melatonin

Melatonin is a hormone that is made in the pineal gland in the brain (it is also made in smaller quantities in other areas of the body) that helps promote sleep. Evening darkness triggers the release of melatonin, and it can take a couple hours after the onset of darkness for melatonin levels to peak. Daytime sunlight, as well as artificial light, then inhibit the release of melatonin.

When to Take Melatonin Supplements

Some people produce lower levels of melatonin, which can contribute to insomnia. Lower levels of melatonin are also seen with aging and can be a side effect from certain medications.

Supplementing with melatonin can be helpful for those with insomnia, shift-work disorder, and jet lag from travel. Taking 0.25mg to 10mg nightly as needed can decrease the time to sleep onset. When taking melatonin, it can take anywhere from 20 minutes to 2 hours to get peak levels in the body, so taking the supplement a little before your desired sleep time can be helpful. Studies vary, reporting a half-life of anywhere from 40 minutes to 2 hours after peak levels reached. Thus, short-acting melatonin is wonderful for jet lag when you need help falling asleep, but if you find yourself with frequent or early morning awakenings, I recommend trying a sustained release formulation for long-lasting treatment.

Other Benefits of Melatonin

Many people are unaware that melatonin has many benefits beyond promoting sleep. Melatonin has been shown to modulate the immune system, function as an antioxidant, support bone health, provide neuroprotection, and has anticancer properties. Because of all the potential benefits of melatonin, I often recommend checking melatonin levels and supplementing if levels are inadequate.

Potential Side Effects of Melatonin Supplements

Melatonin supplements can make some people groggy and/or give vivid dreams. I recommend starting out lower dose (0.25mg-1mg) when first supplementing melatonin to see how you tolerate it, increasing as needed.

As always, please speak with your doctor before starting a new supplement.

Dr. Briana Rueda is practicing functional medicine in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Fill out a contact form to learn more.


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