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All About Melatonin and Sleep

Natan Rosenfeld Natan Rosenfeld July 15, 2021
Medically reviewed by Susan Kerrigan, MD and Marianne Madsen

Tens of millions of Americans suffer from sleep disorders. It’s estimated that 30 percent of American adults deal with occasional insomnia, while 10 percent live with chronic insomnia. When you’ve tried everything and you still just can’t get to sleep, what should you do? It may be time to try a sleep aid, such as melatonin. Is this a good idea?

 

What is melatonin?

 

Melatonin is a hormone naturally produced in the body. It’s generated by the brain in the evening hours, and it is thought to help regulate the sleep-wake cycle. After its role in sleep was discovered, manufacturing of the hormone began in large capacity. Today, melatonin is sold in health-food stores worldwide and is marketed as a natural sleep supplement. And it’s certainly a popular one: In 2012, 3 million Americans were using melatonin to fall asleep.

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Sleep Tips - Sleep Environment

Sleep Tips - Sleep Environment

Melatonin supplements: Do they work?

 

Health and wellness companies have capitalized on melatonin’s link to the sleep process over the years. Now, every bottle of melatonin capsules you’ll find at the store is branded as a miracle drug for sleep. “Fall asleep faster,” “sleep support,” and “promotes deeper sleep” are some common phrases used by manufacturers on their product’s packaging. You may be wondering, though, if any of this is based on science.

 

Studies on melatonin

 

If you’ve been skeptical about the effectiveness of melatonin, you’re right to be. To date, the scientific consensus is that although melatonin may have some slight benefits, it isn’t truly helpful for curing insomnia and other methods should be used to induce sleep. 

 

However, the hormone does have its uses, particularly in treating children’s sleep disorders. Melatonin has been found to help children fall asleep more quickly and increase their total time spent asleep. Studies also show that melatonin can be used for jet lag by helping to reset the sleep-wake cycle. But as an effective, reliable solution for adults with insomnia, melatonin doesn’t seem to have any concrete benefits.

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Insomnia - Steps to Good Night's Sleep

Insomnia - Steps to Good Night's Sleep

How to stimulate your body’s natural melatonin production

 

True, melatonin supplements won’t do you much good. But remember, your body produces melatonin on its own. That means you can help kickstart your body’s production of the hormone by eating certain foods such as tart cherries and goji berries. Eggs, milk, fish, and nuts may also be helpful.

 

Following a consistent daytime and nighttime routine and avoiding insomnia-inducing triggers is also helpful to help you get to sleep.

 

  • Don’t use electronic devices before bed, as blue light emitted from screens may interfere with melatonin production.
  • Don’t watch TV or use other screens in bed. Only use your bed to sleep (or for other adult activities). 
  • Go to bed at the same time every night. 
  • Exercise during the day rather than in the evening.
  • Get enough sunlight during the day to regulate your body clock.
  • Avoid caffeine and alcohol in the evening.
  • Don’t smoke. Cigarette smoking has been linked to poor sleep quality.
  • Keep your bedroom dark and cool.
  • Try to reduce stress if possible. Use meditation or yoga to calm yourself.

 

If you make these changes to your daily and nightly routine, chances are you’ll be able to get a good night’s sleep without relying on any supplements or sleep aids.

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