Melatonin is generating a growing interest in people who have difficulty falling asleep or who have jetlag-related fatigue. Here’s why.
Circadian rhythm and melatonin: what is it about?
Circadian rhythm, also called internal clock, functions at a periodicity that is unique to each individual and that can vary roughly between 23.9 and 25 hours. To synchronize the circadian rhythm to a period of about 24 hours, an outside signal is necessary. A change in light from night to day or day to night represents such a signal.
Melatonin, sometimes dubbed the sleep hormone, is normally secreted by a gland in the brain, epiphysis (or pineal gland). It is produced by the body in the absence of light; therefore, it begins in the evening and decreases during the night until awakening. To some extent, its role consists of telling the body that nighttime has arrived and that it is time to rest.
Why should melatonin supplements be taken?
Sleep is one of the most influential factors on how our day unfolds. Oftentimes, the hectic pace of daily life does not allow us to get restorative sleep. Thus, this has generated a growing interest for melatonin in people who have difficulty falling asleep.
There are many causes of insomnia and of other sleep disorders. Consequently, the possible solutions are numerous. Studies have revealed certain benefits to taking melatonin as supplements in people who are affected by sleep-wake cycle disorders, for instance:
- delayed sleep phase syndrome (the person has difficulty falling asleep)
- circadian rhythm sleep-wake disorders (e.g. blind people or irregular or rotating shift workers)
- jetlag-related fatigue
Melatonin supplements are available at the pharmacy without a prescription. Before purchasing them, it is recommended that you speak to your pharmacist, who can help clarify the situation and determine if its use could be helpful to you. Additionally, your pharmacist can inform you about the different options available, help you make a choice, and to use the product safely.
How should melatonin be taken?
For best results, it is recommended to take melatonin regularly and at the same time every night. It is ideal to take it one hour before bedtime. Additionally, it is advisable to follow a sleep routine with regular bedtime and wake hours. Remember that the treatment objective is to get the brain to adopt a consistent wake and sleep cycle. Be consistent and your sleep cycle will be too!
Melatonin supplements should be used on an ad hoc and occasional basis. If you take this type of product for more than 30 consecutive days, you should see a doctor for a more thorough medical analysis.
What other things can be done to promote sleep?
If you have trouble falling asleep at night, here is some advice to help you sleep better.
- During the evening, avoid the use of electronic devices (smart phone, tablet, computer, etc.).
- If you watch television, choose comforting shows (action or horror films are not recommended!).
- During the evening, avoid beverages that could affect sleep (coffee, tea, energy drinks, alcohol, etc.).
- During the two hours prior to bedtime, practise relaxing activities (reading, taking a hot bath, meditation, listening to soft music, etc.).
Sleep problems are not all related to melatonin and circadian rhythm. If you have difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, begin by trying to identify the cause (e.g. coffee). If it is possible to remedy the issue, do so without delay. In some cases, it is not possible to easily correct the problem (during a divorce or grief, for instance). Then, it could be beneficial to speak to a professional to get help.
It is important to note that sleep disorders are often associated to other health problems such as depression, anxiety, burnout, chronic pain, digestive problems, etc. Again, it’s a good idea to see a doctor for an evaluation and comprehensive care.
Do not hesitate to speak to your pharmacist for additional information about melatonin, sleep disorders or jetlag-related fatigue.