If you’ve used melatonin or are thinking about using melatonin in a pill form it is important to have the facts on what it is, the misconceptions of its benefits and how it is being misused by the general population.
Melatonin is a type of hormone that is created naturally in our body. This hormone is synthesized by serotonin in the pineal gland. Also known as ‘the hormone of darkness’, we produce melatonin during the night time or in the absence of light, and typically the production peaks at two and four in the morning, thereby setting our sleep/wake cycle.
Melatonin occurs naturally as patches in our cheeks or underneath the tongue. This hormone is available in pill form and is used as a medicine for people suffering from insomnia problems, and insomnia related to attention deficit hyperactive disorder and certain medications used for high blood pressure. Melatonin has also been used as a sleep aid for children with development related disorders such as cerebral palsy and autism. And in fact, the calming properties of melatonin are also beneficial for patients undergoing a surgery and often administered before they face the ordeal of those procedures.
Generally said, we use melatonin to adjust the internal body clock for sleeping at the right time after jet lag and when you have sudden adjustment to shifting work schedule from night to day and vice versa. But it’s due to these calming properties also that people tend to misuse melatonin for other purposes or in excess. People often fail to realize that melatonin is not a sleeping pill and using them for this purpose won’t induce you to sleep. This is further complicated by the belief that it is a sleeping pill and when viewed as “natural” medication for this purpose can be misused and cause damaging effects.
It should also be noted that melatonin will effectively cause drowsiness in about 50 per cent of the people using it if they take doses that are the standard three- or five-mg pills that the pill comes in and would therefore more likely get better effects by taking only a half of a pill – the problem with that is the user doesn’t know that when they follow the directions on the pill bottle.
Melatonin is only suitable for short-term measures but people tend to use them for longer periods, making them prone to dangers of addiction. The ‘sleep inducer’ is meant to signal your brain that your body needs to prepare itself for night time and shift the sleep cycle to apt time period. But because of addiction risk, sleep experts don’t recommend you to take melatonin more than two weeks at a time to regulate your sleep timer. If you tend to need melatonin just to get some well-deserved sleep, you may only mask the underlying problems such as insomnia.
Being a ‘sleep inducer’, using melatonin at daylight can only affect you adversely, causing your body to conflict and cease work properly and hence it often fails to decide the proper time to sleep. Take note that although melatonin is likely safe for most adults (for short term use only); side effects such as dizziness, irritability, and short term depressions, may nevertheless be likely to occur.
Avoid it altogether if you are pregnant or nursing (as it can pass to your baby), are a diabetic, or suffering from seizure disorders. Simply take alternative of melatonin to help you sleep.
Being naturally produced in your body, melatonin has other uses such as delaying aging of the skin and works as an anti–oxidant as well, thus neutralizing the damaging effects of free radicals crowding in our body. Lack of melatonin can make us vulnerable to aging effects, brain degenerative diseases, mood disorders, cancer but that does not mean that we should swallow the whole lot of synthetic melatonin in one go!
If it’s a sleeping alternative that you are in search of valerian has been proven for centuries as a medicine to improve sleep quality as well as managing anxiety, and insomnia, thanks to its calming properties. Being an herbal extract, it is safer for you to take it for longer periods of time and in fact, studies have shown that valerian is effective when used for a prolonged period rather than short term measures. However, as with all medication natural or otherwise you should always consult with your doctor before taking any medication.
Note: Lavender and chamomile also produces the same calming effects to aid in relaxation and promote regulatory nighttime sleep.
In short, melatonin can be useful if you use it correctly just to adjust your body for a day or two. But it is important that there is a clear understanding of the hormone and how and when it should be used.
By Liya Das