Melatonin: Better Sleep and All Natural

I haven't been sleeping very well for the past week and it has caught up to me.  I am exhausted.  I can't get my brain to shut off, and not to mention the 4x I get up to pee during the night (I drink over a gallon and a half of water a day) #fitnessathleteproblems  HAHA!

If you also find yourself tossing and turning at night or maybe you are dragging all day long – but then wide awake again come bedtime?  Or if you travel a lot for work..maybe so much that jet lag has become just another “normal” part of your life?  You’re not alone.  According to polls, at least a quarter of American adults say they get less than 7 hours of sleep on weeknights.  No wonder so many of us are walking around like zombies! I get about 6 hours.. and I need more!!

The potential problem is that we as a nation then find ourselves turning to over-the-counter and prescription pills, leaving us spaced out and even worse, dependent on them.

At the same time, the body needs adequate sleep to restore and rejuvenate itself and repair muscles and tissues, including the immune system.  The idea of natural sleep aid that’s free of major side effects and isn’t addictive sounds pretty appealing, doesn’t it?  And yes, it really does work.

Melatonin is a hormone naturally produced by a part of the brain called the pineal gland.  The hormone was isolated from this gland in 1958 by Dr. Aaron Lerner, a Yale researcher who thought it might play a role in skin pigmentation.  He was far off, but thanks for the research Aaron! We learn later that melatonin’s primary role involves helping to maintain our sleep/wake cycle, also know as our circadian rhythms.

It works like this: The pineal gland synthesizes and secretes melatonin in response to messages from the retina in the eye.  This process is strongly influenced by light.  Melatonin secretion increases as the sun sets, reaching peak levels between 2 am and 4 am.  Melatonin is much lower during the day, when light is at its brightest.  This cycle is what makes you feel sleepy at night and awake during the day. 

Of course, increased exposure to artificial light at night, as well as travel through different time zones and work that requires us to work night shifts, can wreak havoc on melatonin production.  This is one of the largest factor's as to why it may be hard to fall asleep at bedtime.  As you might imagine, that makes supplemental melatonin a promising treatment for insomnia, jet lag, and other sleep-related problems.

The supplement also seems to help improve sleep in people with specific medical problems that keep them awake at night, including diabetes, head injury, Parkinson’s disease, and attention deficit disorder (ADD).  It may also benefit shift workers, although research findings have been mixed.  

How Much Do You Take:

Melatonin supplements appear safe when taken even in high doses.  The typical recommended dose is 1 to 3 mg at bedtime. I personally take 10mg, but I weigh 240 pounds at 6'2.  A 120 pound female, I would say 1 to 3mg at bedtime.

Conclusion:

Of course, supplements shouldn't be a crutch for a good night’s sleep.  Melatonin should be thought of as a temporary fix or part of a broader plan to improve sleep. It’s not a one-stop solution.

Instead, practice good sleep patterns: going to bed and waking up at the same time every day (even on weekends), and aiming for 7 to 9 hours.

You can also boost your melatonin levels naturally by dimming your lights a few hours before bed, investing in blackout curtains or shades, and wearing a sleep mask.  Don’t forget to turn off or move your smart phone, tablet, or laptop – their bright lights can interfere with sleep, as can the stress of constantly checking your email.  And practice some form of relaxation an hour or so before bed, whether that means taking a hot bath, doing a few stretches, or meditating. I like to stretch. These new healthy patterns, in conjunction with a little melatonin before bed, and in time you will reset your circadian rhythms.