Sleeping problems are a major concern in the United States. It’s estimated that around 30% of adults suffer from insomnia, and an even higher percentage experience occasional short sleep of less 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 schedule and their 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 are hearing more and more about how many folks are using melatonin as a sleep aid. The supplement has grown in popularity over recent years with some three million Americans now using it.
What is melatonin?
The human body produces melatonin naturally. It is a sleep hormone that is produced by the pineal gland in your brain but 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 as you would any sleeping pill and should be used under your doctor’s supervision.
What are some of its side effects?
Melatonin can cause:
Less common melatonin side effects might include the worsening of feelings of depression, mild tremor, seizure disorders, bleeding disorders, mild anxiety, abdominal cramps, irritability, disorientation. Melatonin can also raise blood pressure in people who are taking certain medications to control blood pressure.
Don’t use melatonin if you have epilepsy, or autoimmune, kidney, or liver disease.
Melatonin might lower blood sugar levels. Taking melatonin along with diabetes medications might cause blood sugar to drop too low. Monitor your blood sugar closely.
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, it may be best to begin with a lower dose.
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 that it isn’t helping you fall asleep or causes unwanted side effects, stop taking it and speak with your doctor. They can perhaps recommend other strategies to help you get a good night’s sleep.