What Is Melatonin: Getting Better Sleep

11/15/2021 | 11 min. read

Healthy Directions Staff Editor

Healthy Directions Staff Editor

Not getting quality sleep can impact every single facet of your life, leaving you with daytime drowsiness or sleepiness, high blood pressure, and a disrupted sleep-wake cycle.

Being able to get better sleep can help you feel healthier, physically and mentally.

One of the ways that you can revamp your sleep routine is by adding melatonin. But what is melatonin? And how can it make a difference?

Healthy Directions is here to discuss everything you need to know about melatonin and other ways to increase your sleep hygiene.  

What Is Melatonin?

Unlike many supplements, melatonin is a hormone that the pineal gland naturally produces as a response to the time of day. When it is dark outside, the brain produces more melatonin.

When it’s light, it makes less. The amount of melatonin the brain produces is also related to its circadian rhythm, 24-hour wake-sleep cycle, and internal biological clock.

Essentially, melatonin is a trigger that tells the body the appropriate time to sleep and wake up. It responds to both the external and internal environment, taking clues from everything around it, which is why those factors greatly influence it.

If you have low levels of melatonin and your circadian rhythm is off, it can quickly lead to noticeable side effects like sleeping problems. After just a single night of inadequate sleep, you may notice an adverse change in your mood.

Your reaction speed can also slow, which may increase your risk of injury. That is why it is so crucial to do anything you can to make sure you’re sleeping not just long enough but more restfully as well.

What Can Impact Our Sleep?

Unfortunately, many different factors can impact how much we sleep and the quality of that sleep. Those factors can come from inside the body or the external environment and make falling or staying asleep difficult.

Developing an awareness of what can impact your sleep can help you find ways to address those issues and get better sleep.

Stress, especially chronic stress, is one of the significant factors that can negatively influence your sleep. When you’re going through periods of stress, it’s hard not to lay awake at night and think about what’s bothering you.

Stress is one of the factors that can keep you from falling asleep.

Shift work can also impact sleep, and shift workers taking night shifts are more likely to end up with sleeping problems due to a disrupting schedule and unregulated melatonin levels.

Similarly, jet lag can lead to sleeping problems due to the change of time zones, leading to symptoms like fatigue and irritability.

Your sleeping environment also plays a part in your sleep — both good and bad. A supportive environment kept at a comfortable temperature with minimal distractions can help you sleep better.

An unsupportive sleeping environment with too much noise and too many distractions can make it much more difficult.

Age can also impact how well you sleep, as the body naturally produces less melatonin the older we get.

How Do Melatonin Supplements Help?

In most cases, the body produces enough of its own melatonin to help you sleep well. However, if you’ve been noticing sleep disturbances, adding a melatonin supplement may be able to help you get better sleep.

Melatonin works just like a vitamin or mineral supplement. It doesn’t do anything to the body that isn’t normal for it. Instead, it simply increases the amount of melatonin in the body, which makes you naturally more sleepy.

Essentially, it tells the body when it is time to sleep (and time to wake up again).

When shopping for a supplement, choosing an extended-release option may provide you with additional benefits. Some of them can also deliver a second dose of melatonin hours into your sleep to help you not just fall asleep more quickly but stay asleep longer as well.

Are There Any Side Effects of Melatonin Use?

Deciding to use melatonin is more than just learning the answer to “what is melatonin?”. There are also some side effects associated with melatonin use, although primarily mild, to know about before starting.

Studies have shown that it is an excellent alternative to some of the other over-the-counter medications, dietary supplements, and prescription sleep aid pills available for sleep disorders, primarily due to its low risk of developing side effects.

The most reported side effects of melatonin use include:

  • Nausea
  • Head and neck tension
  • Dizziness
  • Drowsiness

Follow the instructions on the label and avoid use if you have had a previous allergic reaction to melatonin.

Other Ways To Increase Your Sleep Hygiene

In addition to adding a melatonin supplement, there are other ways that you can increase your sleep hygiene. Have you identified any factors that you believe may be impacting your sleep?

Addressing those factors is a great place to start.

You must create and stick to a bedtime routine to promote better sleep in addition to the use of melatonin supplementation. Consistency is vital, so make sure that you’re designing one that you know you can follow.

At the very least, try to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, even on the weekends.

Pay attention to the temperature of your bedroom, too. While this may vary depending on your comfort level, a room that is too hot or too cold can stop you from falling asleep and staying asleep.

If you can, remove as much technology from your room as you can. Technology, like phones and televisions, can be distracting as you’re trying to fall asleep. The blue light that many of those devices emit can also negatively affect your circadian rhythm.

And finally, avoid drinking alcohol and caffeine for at least a few hours before your bedtime. The same goes for large, carb-heavy meals.

While they all impact you differently, each can make it much harder to get quality sleep.

In Summary

So, what is melatonin? Simply put, it is a fantastic hormone that helps to regulate our circadian rhythm and influences the quality and length of the sleep we get.

If you’ve noticed that you’re having trouble falling asleep at night or waking up less rested, you may want to consider adding a melatonin supplement to your nightly routine.

Whether sleep-related or otherwise, Healthy Directions is here for all your health and wellness needs. You can count on us.

Sources:

Melatonin: What You Need To Know | NCCIH (nih.gov)

Circadian Rhythms| NIGMS (nih.gov)

A review of sleep disorders and melatonin | PubMed

Healthy Directions Staff Editor