Melatonin is the body’s natural sleep hormone, which is produced when the eye sends signals to the brain to let it know that it’s dark and time to go to bed. Since melatonin is a naturally occurring chemical in the brain, many things can affect its output. We have discussed how melatonin is affected by circadian rhythms and bedtime routines before, but today we are going to focus mainly on how melatonin production is crucial to healthy sleep and what to do if your brain isn’t producing enough to fall asleep.
When your circadian rhythm is interrupted, or when your normal routine changes, your body struggles to produce melatonin at the right times and the right amounts for you to fall asleep quickly. Many people who experience sleep disorders in general, such as shift workers and people who travel frequently and experience jet lag, aren’t able to naturally produce melatonin at the levels they need for regular sleep. In these cases, many people try melatonin supplements.
Melatonin supplements are available in many forms including pills, chewable tablets, and gummies. There have been some studies on the effectiveness of melatonin in adults, but many have been inconclusive or have not shown a big enough change in sleeping habits for most medical professionals to determine that they work. Since there are few, if any, proven drawbacks to taking melatonin supplements, many doctors will recommend giving them a try for people who are experiencing less severe sleeping problems.
There is quite a bit of discourse regarding children taking melatonin supplements, and even fewer conclusive studies done for children than there have been for adults. While it hasn’t shown to be harmful or dangerous in small doses, most medical professionals recommend only using melatonin supplements as a short term solution for children. In cases where sleep habits may have changed (switching from summer to back to school or coming back from a vacation overseas), many doctors recommend 1-3 milligrams of melatonin for children for a period of a couple of weeks to help them get back into their normal circadian rhythms.
Melatonin supplements won’t solve all sleep issues, and in fact, if not paired with creating a normal bedtime routine that involves avoiding blue light, they may not be effective at all. You should always speak with your doctor if you have serious concerns about your sleep, especially if you have tried other solutions first.