Melatonin not working? This could be why
This natural sleep aid offers A LOT of promise
If you’re one of the millions of people desperately trying to get a good night’s sleep, you may have tried over-the-counter sleep aids such as melatonin.
Melatonin is one of the most popular supplements for insomnia and occasional sleeplessness.
Unlike antihistamines such Benadryl or medications that contain diphenhydramine (Unisom, ZzzQuil, or Tylenol/Advil PM), which provides a sedative effect, melatonin is a hormone released naturally by the pineal gland when the sun goes down.
Melatonin helps to regulate your circadian rhythm, also known as your body’s 24-hour biological clock.1 If you’ve ever been jet-lagged, then you know what it’s like for your sleep/wake cycle to be out of balance.
Melatonin alone does not induce sleep, so it may not provide the results you expect with other medications.
Let’s take a look at how melatonin is really related to sleep and why it may not be working for you.
What Is Melatonin?
It may surprise you, but melatonin is not a sleeping pill.
When it gets dark, melatonin levels rise in the brain. Melatonin is a hormone naturally produced in the pineal gland that helps to regulate your circadian rhythm.
The pineal gland is a small structure that sits just above the brain stem and plays a role in major bodily functions such as sleeping, body temperature, metabolism, hormones, and more.
It works on a 24-hour cycle, withholding the release of melatonin during the day and releasing it at nighttime, making you feel tired.
Levels of melatonin peak in the middle of the night and hit a low at the crack of dawn.
Individuals suffering from sleeplessness take the supplement before bedtime with the hope that it will shorten the amount of time it takes to fall asleep and improve overall sleep quality.
The role of supplementing with melatonin is to help your body match up with its biological preference: the light/dark cycle of the 24-hour day.
However, not everyone experiences relief from their sleeplessness.
Why may that be?
Melatonin: Over-the-Counter Hormone for Sleeplessness, Not Insomnia
It turns out melatonin is the only hormone available in the United States without a doctor’s prescription. Because it naturally occurs in a number of foods, such as vegetables, grains, fruits, and dairy, the U.S. Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994 allows the administration of melatonin to remain unregulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) or controlled in the same way as a drug.2
You may be surprised to learn that, according to the current clinical guidelines of the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, melatonin is not recommended for the treatment of chronic insomnia.3
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), adults need at least seven hours of sleep per night.4 While it is incredibly common to suffer from occasional sleeplessness, such as pulling an all-nighter or losing some zzz’s from traveling or jet lag, having occasional sleep troubles is different that clinical insomnia.
Insomnia, whether acute (short term) or chronic, is defined as a sleep disorder characterized by trouble falling or staying asleep.
An estimated 40 million Americans suffer from insomnia every year, and it is the most common sleep disorder in the United States. Acute insomnia can last anywhere from a couple nights to a couple weeks, while chronic insomnia occurs for at least three nights a week for at least three months.5
Do you have insomnia that is not relieved by melatonin?
Although the anecdotal evidence for melatonin is promising, a recent meta-analysis revealed that melatonin was only able to increase sleep by eight additional minutes when compared to a placebo.6
Recent animal research may hold the answer for why melatonin is not as effective as other prescription medications.
Humans, asleep at night, have an increased level of melatonin at nighttime. Surprisingly, nocturnal rodents also experience a rise in melatonin at night, when they are most active. One study observing the nighttime behavior of mice revealed greater activity associated with higher melatonin levels.7
These results show that, depending on the species, opposite patterns of behavior may occur!
Some researchers believe that melatonin may be inducing “typical nighttime behavior,” explaining the failure of melatonin to induce sleep in insomniacs.
While healthy sleepers with occasional disturbances may have a bedtime routine to induce sleep, melatonin could be spurring the anxious patterns of insomniacs (such as lying in bed and staring at the ceiling or ruminating).8
Let’s Make it Work: What’s the Proper Melatonin Dosage?
Another explanation for why melatonin may not be your sleep-saving grace is the issue of dosing.
While researchers have studied appropriate melatonin doses, the FDA does not regulate the manufacture and sale of melatonin supplements. This is why you can find melatonin pills in as little as 0.1 mg and up to 10 mg.
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There is not currently a scientific consensus on the accurate dosage of melatonin. Research reveals that 0.3 mg of the supplement is sufficient for improvement of your sleep cycle, but some supplements sell tablets up to 10 mg.
Most people take WAY too much melatonin!
Taking a typical over-the-counter dose of 1–3 mg may elevate your blood level of melatonin from 1 to 20 times the normal amount.
It is risky to take melatonin at a high dose consistently. Some experts believe taking melatonin regularly at very large doses may desensitize the receptors in the brain.9
Desensitizing the melatonin receptors in the brain may not only create a potential for tolerance but also make insomnia worse.
A number of studies have revealed that a therapeutic dose of melatonin for trouble falling asleep falls between 0.3 and 1 mg, while for the long-term treatment of insomnia in combination with other medications is between 2 and 3 mg.
In conclusion, if melatonin is not working for you, try reducing your dose! Melatonin may also be most effective with other behavior modifications for better sleep hygiene.
Click here for more information on how to get a better night’s sleep with our sleep protocol.
To your health,
Contributing Editor, Clear Health Now