Sleep is essential to your mental health. It is perhaps one of the reasons that melatonin has grown in popularity in the United States. It is available as an OTC sleep aid, and you can get it at any drugstore or even grocery store.
What Is Melatonin?
Melatonin is a hormone produced by the pineal gland and is in charge of controlling the circadian rhythm. Your body produces this hormone when you are exposed to darkness. The levels of melatonin rise as it gets dark, and you start to feel calmer and sleepier.
However, some people need more melatonin to regulate their circadian rhythm, including:
- People who are blind
- People with dementia
- People with neurodevelopmental disorders, including autism spectrum disorder
- People taking certain medications
- Frequent travelers
- Shift workers
Aside from being an effective sleep aid, it is also taken to help with migraine, ADHD or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and IBS or irritable bowel syndrome.
How Melatonin Works
The pineal gland, which produces melatonin, is found in the middle of the grain. It is controlled by the SCN or suprachiasmatic nucleus, a group of nerve cells or neurons in the hypothalamus. These neurons control the body clock. They do this by sending signals to each other.
During the daytime, the eyes’ retinas absorb light. They send signals to the SCN. The SCN, in turn, tells the pineal gland to stop producing melatonin. This is why you are able to stay awake during the day.
As you can probably expect, at night, the opposite happens. As you are exposed to darkness, the SCN tells the pineal gland to release melatonin to the body. As that hormone level increases, the blood pressure and body temperature slowly drop. The melatonin also circles back to the SCN to slow down neuronal firing. This action prepares the body for sleep.
How Long It Takes for it to Work
Melatonin is generally absorbed quickly by the body. It can reach its peak level an hour after taking an oral supplement. This is when you’ll start feeling sleepy.
However, similar to other drugs, the effects of it may vary from one person to another. This means it may take longer or faster for you.
The Difference Between Regular Melatonin and Extended-Release Melatonin
Regular melatonin tablets are also called immediate-release supplements, which means they dissolve as soon as they are taken and release it into the bloodstream instantly. In comparison, extended-release melatonin slowly dissolves. The effect is a gradual release of melatonin over time, mimicking how the body naturally produces melatonin at night. Extended-release melatonin is believed by many to be more effective in keeping you asleep throughout the night.
Extended-release melatonin is also sometimes called:
- Continuous release
Your doctor will be able to help you decide whether regular or extended-release melatonin is the right choice for you.
When Should You Take Melatonin?
The general recommendation is to take it 30 minutes to one hour before your bedtime. It’s because it usually starts working after half an hour when the levels in the blood rise. That said, it should also be considered, again that it can be different for you. Everybody absorbs melatonin at different rates. You can start taking it half an hour before you go to bed and adjust the timing based on how long before you fall asleep.
Perhaps more important than when you should take melatonin is when you shouldn’t. You should never take it after your usual bedtime because this can cause haywire in. your body clock, and you are likely to experience sleepiness during the daytime.
How Long Does the Effect Last?
Many new melatonin users find that they are excessively sleepy during the day after taking it at night. The culprit behind this is wrong timing – that or improper dosage.
You see, the effects of it greatly vary depending on how much of it you take. For example, 0.5 mg of melatonin will make you sleepy for an hour or so, while 10mg of it will last for over seven hours. Another factor that comes into play is your condition. If you rarely suffer from sleeplessness, then one or two milligrams of melatonin should be enough to make you sleep. However, if you are someone with chronic insomnia or other sleep problems, you may need a dosage of at least 10 mg. That said, the length of effect is not dependent on dosage. Meaning, you can’t increase doses because you want to sleep longer. It’s more related to how fast you’ll fall asleep.
The effects of the sleep aid do not last that long. That’s why you need to nail your timing. If you just want to sleep better and don’t have any sleeping disorders, you should take melatonin at least 30 minutes before bedtime. If you have delayed sleep onset, though, you should take it an hour before you sleep.
If you have a sleep disorder and take other sleep aids, it’s best to consult with your doctor before taking it. These supplements are safe and can even be given to children. However, one must still be aware of the risk of dependence on any sleep aid.
True, melatonin supplements are safer than other sleep aids, but they should still only be taken with the doctor’s approval or supervision. The wrong medications or supplements can affect your health negatively.
How Long Does It Stay in the Body?
It does not last that long in the body. Its half-life is between 40 and 60 minutes. The half-life is the length of time it takes for the body to eliminate half of the drug from the body. Usually, it takes about four to five half-lives for a medicine to be eliminated entirely.
So, if melatonin has 40 to 60 minutes of half-life, you can expect it to stay in the body for about five hours or so. If you are awake during this time, you’ll likely experience drowsiness and other side effects. It is for this reason that we warn against driving or operating heavy machinery within five hours of taking it.
You are less likely to experience a melatonin “hangover” if you take it at the right time.
Side Effects That You Should Be Aware Of
While melatonin is considered safe, it’s still important to know about potential side effects:
There are also a few rare reports of the following adverse effects:
- Abnormally low blood pressure
- Mild anxiety
- Mild tremors
- Temporary depression
- Reduced alertness
It’s also important to know that it isn’t for everybody despite being considered generally safe. You should not take it if you:
- Have an autoimmune disease
- Have a heart or kidney disease
- Have depression
- Have a seizure disorder
- Take contraceptives
- Take immunosuppressants
- Take drugs for diabetes or hypertension
Melatonin should be taken 30 minutes to one hour before bedtime as it often takes that long for it to start working. It lasts in the body for around five hours, but factors like overall health status and age can affect this. While generally safe, addiction to sleep aids is still possible, so it should be taken with care and the supervision of a doctor.