Melatonin. Do I need it and is it safe?

25% of adults suffer from chronic sleep disorders, and 30 to 40% of children do not get enough sleep daily. Stress and unhealthy lifestyles are the main culprits, quickly followed by workload, frequent travelling and physical ailments. Sleeping just one hour less a night (8 versus 7) decreases melatonin (our sleeping hormone) production and increases cortisol (our stress hormone) secretion. Increased cortisol further inhibits melatonin production, worsening sleep the next night.

As we age, melatonin production decreases creating difficulties falling and staying asleep. Melatonin, the body’s natural sleeping hormone is released from the pineal gland at night when levels of light drop to induce sleep. In the morning, light inhibits melatonin release and the body wakes up. Melatonin is also used to regulate all circadian rhythms of all body systems.

Studies reveal that melatonin supplementation can help promote healthy sleep patterns regardless of the cause of insomnia by reducing sleep latency (time needed to fall asleep), and boosting sleep efficiency and total sleep duration without side effects. Most importantly, once we have fallen asleep, melatonin is responsible for pushing our brain into delta wave sleep, the deep healing sleep that rejuvenates our body for the next day.

But the benefits of melatonin don’t end with sleep. It is a powerful antioxidant that crosses the blood-brain barrier, protecting the brain from aging, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and stroke.

Melatonin also has several cancer fighting abilities from increasing apoptosis (self destruction), preventing replication of cancerous cells, to interfering with estrogen binding on cancerous cells.

Melatonin is extremely safe and effective for anyone over the age of 4 in appropriate doses (1 to 10 mg depending on age), with no reported addictive qualities. It is a natural and necessary component for the body whose production is inhibited by many 21st century factors (stress, pollution, unnatural lighting in houses at night) making supplementation a crucial part to our sleep and our health. Melatonin production is also inhibited by most pharmaceutical sleeping pills, antihistamines, beta blocker, aspirin or other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, and augmented by natural or pharmaceutical antidepressants. It can cause vivid dreams in those with untreated high cortisol levels, in which case, reducing the dose to 1 mg from the standard 3 mg and slowly building back up mitigates the dreams.

In such a fast paced society, good quality, delta wave sleep has never been more important to the body to heal, protect and maintain our health. Sleep is nature’s best form of medicine and the one thing we simply cannot sacrifice. Sweet dreams.

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[No authors listed] Melatonin. Monograph. Altern Med Rev. 2005 Dec;10(4):326-36.)