Melatonin is one of the compounds that your body uses to initiate the process of putting you to sleep. Here’s some information about melatonin, including how it can help you sleep, the alternatives that people use, and how they all interact.
What Is Melatonin?
Melatonin is a hormone that your body produces naturally. While you can purchase it as a supplement as well, it’s completely natural because your body makes it and uses it to help you sleep all the time. The compound is created in your pineal gland. This gland is about the size of a pea and it’s right above the dead center of your brain. When you’re out and about during the daytime, the pineal gland is dormant.
However, in situations where it’s dark, the gland activates and begins to create melatonin which pours out into your blood. In people who are sleeping during “normal” hours, this happens at around 9 at night. Once the compound has pervaded your blood, you start to feel sleepy. You now have more of an urge to get into bed and relax. Your body makes sure melatonin stays active in your blood throughout the night, and for a few hours after. By 9 AM or so, the melatonin in your blood drops off to almost nothing.
Bright lights also have an effect on melatonin. When there’s a lot of light reaching your eye, the production of melatonin ceases. It will only come back on again when it’s dark.
Sleep Aids and Research
For all these reasons, it often makes sense for people to take melatonin is an aid to sleep if they have some problem that interrupts their ability to properly sleep at night. Obviously, this doesn’t include all people, but it has been helpful for many. It makes sense, you’re literally just using a bit more of what your body already produces anyway. Research on the topic has done studies comparing the effects of people who take melatonin to those who take a placebo, or sugar pill.
Many studies show that the benefits of melatonin may not be as strong as other effects though, such as for light. These studies often show little effect, which means that melatonin may need to be part of a greater overall picture and not just something that you take by itself. For example, the studies have also shown that melatonin is highly effective for “resetting your clock” when your body gets confused about when it needs to sleep, such as what happens with things like jet lag, when your body’s internal clock is confused by time zones.
The production of melatonin is essentially what people are talking about when they say their body’s clock in the first place, so this certainly makes sense.
Studies definitely vary when it comes to the exact effect that the compound has. Some show that melatonin helps you fall asleep faster, or make it so you don’t wake back up again too often, while others show very little effect.
Going to a Specialist
In the end, it makes a lot of sense to visit a sleep specialist if you have some problem with sleeping at night. Regardless of what your problem may be, only a sleep specialist is going to be able to give you a full accounting of what could be happening to you and the steps that you can and should take to get back to sleep and stay there so that you can live your life normally again. There’s every chance that melatonin could be part of that solution, but if you’re trying it and it’s not doing the full job you hoped that it would, then a specialist is going to know a lot more about the problem that you will, and they will be more advantageously situated to make sure that they suggest all of the best options you have to getting healthy, natural sleep, rather than just trying to knock yourself out with sleeping pills all the time. In general, the quicker you get to your sleep specialist, the better off you will be.