What is Melatonin and Why Do We Need It?

What is Melatonin and Why Do We Need It? | Dr. Ali Ghahary

Made by the pea-sized pineal gland, melatonin is a type of natural hormone (often referred to as the “sleep hormone”) that helps regulate your circadian rhythm and tells your body when it’s time to go to sleep and when to wake up. While many people don’t have any issue getting to sleep at night, there are other individuals who might have a hard time falling or staying asleep, which is also commonly referred to as insomnia – and if you happen to be one of those people, then your body may need additional melatonin, which can be obtained through taking a melatonin supplement. Aside from treating insomnia, melatonin has also been known to help with the treatment of other sleep disorders, including delayed sleep phase, and even jet lag. It also acts as an antioxidant and can improve or reduce the risk of many different health conditions.

While melatonin is considered safe for both short and long-term use, it is typically recommended to only be taken on a short-term basis due to the potential for developing side effects, including things like headache, dizziness, nausea, fatigue, anxiety, irritability, confusion/disorientation, and low blood pressure. In addition to these side effects, it’s also possible to become dependent on melatonin the longer you take it – and it may even have a decreased effect over time. Melatonin can also interact with certain medications, including anti-depressants, blood pressure medication, blood thinners, diabetes medications, contraceptive drugs, and immunosuppressant drugs (just to name a few.) Therefore, if you are taking medication and are considering adding in a melatonin supplement, you should always first check with your physician or pharmacist to ensure that there won’t be any interactions between it and any of the medication in which you’ve been prescribed.

Before trying melatonin, you may be able to get a good night’s rest simply by figuring out why you aren’t getting a good night’s rest. One of the most common reasons why people have such a hard time falling and staying asleep at night is due to spending too much time in front of a computer, their smartphone, or watching TV before bed. By cutting down your screen time and avoiding it at least 2 hours prior to going to bed, you may find yourself able to sleep better. Another mistake people make is drinking coffee late at night. Coffee contains caffeine, which is a stimulant – so unless you actually need to stay awake for all hours of the evening (i.e. if you’re cramming for an important test), then coffee is something I would suggest avoiding late at night. As an alternative, you can try tea. Tea has not only been known to help people fall asleep (chamomile, especially), but one cup of tea also contains less caffeine than a cup of coffee.

Something else you can consider looking into is magnesium, which is a natural muscle relaxant and also blocks the production of cortisol in the brain, which then causes the body to experience an overall calming effect and help you fall asleep. When you don’t have enough magnesium, the opposite occurs, and you may find yourself feeling more excitable or irritable, nervous, or stressed out than you usually would. Many of the North American population has less than the suggested levels of magnesium in their body, so it might not be a bad idea to start. In addition to helping you get better sleep, magnesium can also help fight depression, decrease high blood pressure, boost exercise performance, prevent migraines, and even has anti-inflammatory benefits.

Visit HealthLink BC for more on melatonin and how it impacts the body.