Sleep problems are a major concern in the United States. It’s estimated that around 30% of adults have insomnia, and an even higher percentage experience occasional short sleep of fewer than 7 hours per night. Black and brown people are more likely to work night shifts or irregular or extra hours that can throw off their sleep schedules and ability to sync their circadian rhythm (the body’s internal clock) with the local day-night cycle.
The National Sleep Foundation’s Sleep in America Poll gathers responses about key aspects of sleep behavior. The poll highlighted distinct responses from racial and ethnic groups and found that Black respondents reported the least amount of sleep on weekdays.
These days we hear more and more about how folks use melatonin as a sleep aid. The supplement has grown in popularity over recent years, with some three million Americans using it.
What is melatonin?
The human body produces melatonin naturally. It is a sleep hormone produced by the pineal gland in your brain but is also found in other areas, such as your eyes, bone marrow, and gut. Melatonin production does, however, decrease with age. Because of this, melatonin supplements may be helpful for older adults who are having trouble falling asleep.
Darkness triggers the body to make more melatonin, which signals the body to sleep. Light decreases melatonin production and signals the body to be awake. Some people who have trouble sleeping have low levels of melatonin. Many factors may cause low melatonin levels at night, such as alcohol consumption, smoking, caffeine consumption, shift work, aging, certain medications, and exposure to too much light at night — including blue light (computers or the sun).
It’s thought that adding melatonin from supplements might help folks sleep by normalizing their internal clocks. Melatonin supplements are popular among people with insomnia. They can also be purchased without a prescription and are relatively safe for short-term use for up to 2 years. But melatonin should be treated like any sleeping pill and ALWAYS used under your doctor’s supervision.
Melatonin can cause:
Less common melatonin side effects might include worsening feelings of depression, mild tremors, seizure disorders, bleeding disorders, mild anxiety, abdominal cramps, irritability, and disorientation. Melatonin can also raise blood pressure in people taking certain medications to control blood pressure.
Don’t use melatonin if you have epilepsy, an autoimmune condition, or kidney or liver disease.
Melatonin might lower blood sugar levels. Taking melatonin along with diabetes medications might cause blood sugar to drop too low. So, monitor your blood sugar closely.
Those folks taking immunosuppressants and blood-thinning drugs should also consult their doctors before taking melatonin.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) doesn’t regulate melatonin as a drug. Because of this, there’s limited information on the optimal, safe dosage of melatonin. Melatonin typically takes 1 to 2 hours to work, so it’s often taken up to 2 hours before bedtime.
Some melatonin supplements are slow-release, and others are fast-release. Some melatonin products can be placed under the tongue or in the cheek to absorb faster. Melatonin is also used in creams, gargles, and gels. If you’re looking to try melatonin for the first time, your doctor might suggest a low dose.
Should you consider it?
Again, before you try melatonin, speak with a healthcare provider to find out what type of product and dose might be best for your specific sleep issue.
If you take melatonin and notice it isn’t helping you fall asleep or causes unwanted side effects, stop taking it. Speak with your physician, who can recommend other strategies to help you get a good night’s sleep.