Melatonin supplements and why we shouldn’t use them. Melatonin has been touted as a “natural” product by many but it is really all its cracked up to be?
Well the short answer is no for the most part. Melatonin is actually a hormone we produce in our bodies, mainly in the pineal gland in the brain. It helps support our circadian rhythms and should be lowest in the mornings and highest at night.
So while melatonin has been named the “sleep hormone” it doesn’t really have that much to do with sleep except that it is higher at night and it helps with circadian rhythms. Some people think that insomnia, for example, is caused by low melatonin and in my experience this is not the case.
For me and my hormonal journey sleep was a HUGE factor in getting my hormones back into balance and losing weight. There is no denying that sleep and weight are related, so this is a topic that I became fascinated with.
It should also be noted that melatonin supplements are not regulated and can contain any number of ingredients, some not so great! Some will be more “natural” than others so always read the label. According to one sources “Melatonin supplements in pill form are usually a man-made synthetic melatonin, which is chemically identical to melatonin produced in your body. However, natural melatonin is made from the brain tissue of cows” (1) and I don’t think we are talking about grass fed organic cows.
Insomnia can be from numerous causes that its sometimes impossible to pin point the real cause, but it isn’t from lack of melatonin. This supplement is touted as the answer to your sleep problems but most MD’s and some health stores but do we really know enough about it?
According to William C. Dement, M.D., Ph. D. “there is no such sleep disorder as insomnia” – more that it is a symptom of something greater at play. In his mind “insomnia is also somewhat different from other sleep problems in that victims are always certain they have difficulty sleeping”. He goes onto to explain that unlike shift workers or a new mom with a new born who needs round the clock attention, but know the sleep deprivation won’t last, those who suffer from severe insomnia can see no relief coming, they feel they are trapped and are fully aware of how it will impact their next day – which then feeds into the insomnia.
Occasional trouble sleeping is simply part of how we live now a days. Before the invention of the light bulb we would take cues from the seasons and from our bodies which would signal to us that its time to go to bed, and time to wake up.
Fast forward to today when almost half of all adults have their phones beside their beds and even routinely wake up in the middle of the night to check their emails or Facebook!
“Sleep specialists like to divide insomnia into 2 categories “transient” cases lasting only one night to a week or two, and “chronic” case lasting weeks, months or years”. I find these to be too rigid as in my case I had bouts of insomnia (or the inability to get a good nights sleep) for a good year, so I would fall into both categories, and maybe a few more.
I would also fall into the category of “Hyper arousal” which is generally caused by stress and worry. But I also found that my iron was extremely low and my ferritin was even lower, which can also impact your quality of sleep.
Let’s also not forget some of the side effects of using a synthetic hormone:
“Melatonin may increase blood sugar, therefore decreasing the effectiveness of diabetes medications to lower blood sugar. Melatonin may also constrict blood vessels, which could be dangerous for people with high blood pressure or heart disease.
Several drugs and treatments may interact with melatonin. Birth control increases melatonin levels in the body, so taking melatonin supplements may cause high melatonin levels. Taking melatonin supplements alongside sedatives such as benzodiazepines may cause excessive sleepiness.
Melatonin may slow blood clotting, so taking melatonin alongside medications that also slow blood clotting can lead to excessive bruising or bleeding. Melatonin may also produce this side effect if taken with herbs that slow blood clotting such as angelica, clove, danshen, garlic, ginger, ginkgo, Panax ginseng, red clover and willow”.
Here is what worked for me and helped me get back to sleeping consistently and effectively:
- Set a sleep schedule
- Keep that same schedule every single day, including weekends
- Get up early and get your movement/exercise in with the morning sun
- Work on your stressors and stress management techniques
- Get your phone, TV, iPad etc out of the bedroom
The Promise of Sleep – William C. Dement, M.D., Ph. D.