Melatonin, commonly referred to as the “sleep hormone,” is a hormone produced in the brain by the pineal gland. It helps control an individual’s sleep and wake cycles. The hormone can be found in tiny amounts in foods like grains, meats, fruits, and vegetables. You may also buy it as a supplement.
By the body's inbuilt mechanism, melatonin production begins in the evening, or when darkness sets in. It is the brain’s way of signaling the body to prepare for sleep. As daybreak begins, and light sets in, melatonin production is slowed down and the body awakens. A strong light may even completely switch off melatonin production in some people. Naturally, the body produces about 0.1mg of melatonin on a daily basis. The levels are much lower in individuals suffering from insomnia or sleep difficulty. Melatonin supplements are often prescribed to travelers to treat jet lag, people working in shifts as well as those with sleep problems resulting from conditions like attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and some developmental disorders like cerebral palsy and autism.
The body has its own internal mechanism of controlling your natural sleep – wake up cycle. In part, the body clock controls how much melatonin your body can produce. These levels, as already mentioned, begin to rise as darkness set in and remains high for most of the night, before dropping at daybreak.
Light affects melatonin production. During the shorter days, the body might produce melatonin later in the day than usual. This change in melatonin production may result in symptoms of seasonal affective disorder (SAD), commonly referred to as winter depression. Natural melatonin levels drop with age. Thus, some older people may produce very little amounts of the hormone or none at all.
Ideally, melatonin supplements are safe when taken in small doses for short or long-term use. However, it is important that you talk to your doctor before using them. Children and pregnant or nursing mothers must never take this supplement before consulting the doctor.
Melatonin supplements do have side effects. However, these side effects do go away as soon as you stop taking the supplement.
Avoid driving or operating dangerous machines when taking this supplement, especially if it makes you feel drowsy or confused. During an appointment with your doctor, be sure to mention if you are taking melatonin. Also, tell them if you are having sleep problems (insomnia) as this could be related to an underlying medical condition.
Adults can take melatonin supplements in doses ranging from 0.2mg to 20.0 mg, based on the reason for use. The right dose varies from person to person. It is important that you talk to your doctor to find out the right dosage, as well as if this supplement is right for you. A higher dose of melatonin may cause anxiety and irritability among other side effects.
The best approach for taking this supplement to treat or manage any condition is to begin with very low doses of melatonin. Start by keeping the dose as close as possible to the amounts the body produces naturally (less than 0.3 mg per day). Always use the lowest possible amount to achieve the desired effect. Your doctor should be able to advise you on the most appropriate dose for your situation, including how and when to increase the dosage.
Always consult your pediatrician before administering melatonin to a child. Doses between 1 to 5 mg per day might cause seizures in this age group.
Always work with your doctor to find the safest and most effective dosage for your situation. The right dose should result in a restful sleep without causing daytime fatigue or irritability.
0.5 to 4 mg of the supplement one hour prior to your bedtime at your destination is recommended. You may also take 1 to 4 mg of the supplement one hour before bedtime for up to two days prior to departure and for 2 to 3 days upon arriving at your destination. If you are eastbound, traveling east, say from the US to Europe, it is recommended that you take the supplement after dark. If you are westbound, on the other hand, say traveling from the US to Australia, you may not need a dose for you first travel night. However, you may take the supplement for the next 4 nights in your new destination, after dark.
Take 0.1 mg to 0.5 mg of the supplement 30 minutes before bedtime. Studies suggest that while melatonin supplement may be effective in promoting sleep, it does not maintain it.
Take 1.8 mg to 3 mg 30 minutes before the desired onset of your daytime sleep.
Too much melatonin in your system can have the opposite effect of its intended use. It can disrupt your normal circadian rhythm thus resulting in sleep difficulty. Additionally, melatonin overdose can leave you feeling sluggish and sleepy during the day and with extremely vivid dreams, and nightmares, at night. In some people, melatonin overdose can result in blood pressure problems. That said, anything between 0.2 mg to 3 mg per day is considered safe dosage. 5 mg to 20 mg per day, on the other hand, is considered an overdose.
Following are the side effects you need to look out for if you are taking higher than recommended doses of the supplement.
Melatonin overdose may leave you feeling as though you have suffered a hangover and will be fatigued upon waking up. If you take the supplement at times other than before your bedtime, you will feel the urge to fall asleep during the day, resulting in drowsiness when driving or making poor judgment when operating dangerous equipment at work.
Taking melatonin supplement during pregnancy is not recommended by most doctors because the hormone may interfere with other hormones in the body such as the Luteinizing hormone, sex hormones, progesterone, thyroid hormone, prolactin and growth hormone. Taking the supplement during pregnancy may also increase the risk of developmental disorders to your unborn child. Melatonin overdose has also been linked to reduced libido, interference with normal ovulation as well as reduced sperm count, so you probably want to avoid it if you are pregnant or attempting to conceive.
Melatonin overdose can trigger depression because it interacts with the mood-influencing chemicals of the brain. Excessive use of this supplement can also trigger mood fluctuations, from depressive to manic symptoms. Individuals suffering from bipolar syndrome or chronic depression should avoid the supplement altogether and should only take the supplement under strict supervision.
Melatonin overdose can trigger hallucinations, confusion, paranoid delusions and disorientation in otherwise normal people. Continued overdose can worsen the condition in people who have an underlying psychotic condition like schizophrenia.
Melatonin overdose can trigger nightmares or very vivid dreams. People who sleepwalk can have their symptoms worsened when they take excessive doses of this supplement.
If you have a preexisting seizure disorder, an overdose of melatonin supplement can lower your seizure threshold resulting in more seizures than usual.
While melatonin has been found to lower the effects of blood pressure, it also tends to increase resistance to insulin. This makes it more difficult for people suffering diabetes to control their blood sugar levels. The condition worsens when there is an overdose of the supplement.
Some people suffer from nausea and vomiting when taking the supplement orally. An overdose of the supplement may thus increase the nausea and vomiting besides triggering other conditions like dehydration.
As already mentioned, it is not safe to take melatonin while breastfeeding. This is because melatonin may find its way into breast milk. Excessive amounts of the supplement in the breast milk may trigger health and sleep complications in the infant.
Some people may experience allergic reactions after taking a melatonin supplement. These can be in the forms of rashes and anaphylactic reactions. These reactions may be worsened by an overdose.
Melatonin overdose my trigger tightness in the throat and consequent shortness of breath. It is important that you seek medical attention as soon as possible when you experience these symptoms.
Studies indicate that overdose of melatonin supplements may increase the risk of getting autoimmune disorders like Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, and type 1 diabetes. If you already have a preexisting autoimmune disorder, seek medical counsel before taking melatonin supplement for sleep.
Since melatonin is metabolized by the liver, excessive use of the supplement can cause damage to your liver. If you already have a pre-existing liver condition, you might not be a candidate for taking melatonin supplements at all.
Melatonin overdose can interfere with medications such as blood thinning medications, anti-seizure medications, psychiatric medications and blood pressure medications. Melatonin overdose can also interfere with diabetic medication, alcohol, caffeine, painkillers, antihistamines, muscle relaxants, Luvox and other hormone-based medications.
If you intentionally, or accidentally, take a large dose of melatonin, you should visit the emergency room or call a Poison Control Center as soon as possible for advice on what you should expect and what to do. You should also stop using the supplement immediately. This will gradually lower the hormone’s levels in your body.
Discontinuation of the supplement should start as soon as you exhibit confusion and drowsiness, or when other symptoms like vomiting, shortness of breath and seizures are exhibited. The symptoms of overdose should be treated conventionally depending on severity and the doctor’s discretion.
There are no strict guidelines for buying melatonin supplements. It is, however, advisable that you buy the supplement from a reliable vendor. Furthermore, it is important that you strictly follow the instructions issued by your doctor or general practitioner when purchasing and taking the supplement. In addition, it is important to understand that melatonin interacts with other medications, hence you should take severe precautions when using this supplement alongside other medications. Finally, expectant and nursing mothers should avoid this supplement at all cost because of potential for causing birth defects.
Getting adequate sleep is very important, and melatonin supplements are used by those who have sleep problems to get sleep. Many factors may trigger reduction of natural melatonin in the body, such as old age, stressful life conditions, and lifestyles, as well as an underlying medical condition. This is where consumption of safe dosages of melatonin supplement comes in to help you sleep. It also triggers the production of natural melatonin by the body. Keep in mind that using the right melatonin supplement will have a positive effect in the future as you will need less of it. The important thing to note, however, is to take the right dose at the right time after consulting with your doctor.