Melatonin, the Sleep Hormone

You have probably heard of melatonin, one of our bodies’ endogenous hormones. Today we’ll talk about natural melatonin cycles, how melatonin relates to health, and also how melatonin is taken as a supplement.

Your Natural Melatonin Cycle
Melatonin is a hormone produced by the pineal gland. It also acts as a neurotransmitter. In dim light conditions melatonin levels will start to rise about 2 hours before your habitual bedtime, and peak about 2 hours afterwards. This increase is partly responsible for tired feelings before bedtime. It will decline during the night and be at very low levels during the day. Melatonin is suppressed by bright light, such as sunshine.

People who are either “larks” or “owls,” have a melatonin rhythm that is different from the norm. This causes them either to get sleepy much earlier in the day – “larks”, or much later than usual – “owls.” An example is found during puberty in teenagers whose melatonin rhythm shifts later, causing their sleep and wake times to shift later.

Uses of Melatonin
Melatonin can be taken as a supplement to improve sleep. In the past, higher doses (5-10mg) were used like a pharmaceutical drug, and some people experienced a hang-over effect the next morning. Newer research has shown that much lower doses (.3-3mg), which are in line with the levels naturally found in the body, are just as effective.

- Precisely timed melatonin can be used to shift the habitual sleep time for those people who are “owls” or “larks.” Exposure to bright light can also be used to shift sleep times as it will suppress melatonin.
- Melatonin can be used by travelers to reduce jet-lag symptoms. It is especially effective when used in combination with a well-thought out sleep schedule, bright light exposure and limiting light with sunglasses.
- Melatonin can be a gentle aid in promoting sleep for those who have sleep onset insomnia. There are also time-released formulas for people who have difficulty staying asleep through the night.

You can always take advantage of your endogenous melatonin rhythm by going to bed at approximately the same time each night, and getting bright light exposure in the morning. This is one way to naturally keep your sleep healthy!

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2 Comments on “Melatonin, the Sleep Hormone”

  1. Lori Witty Says:

    I’m curious if there is any information on how much time you should allow for sleep if taking melatonin. It helps me fall asleep but I still wake after usually 3-4 hours of sleep and having a difficult time in falling back to sleep. If taken in the middle of the night…how many hours should I allow to be able to sleep without feeling groggy, tired, “hungover” or lightheaded/dizzy in the morning when having to get up from work?

    • Dr. Catherine Darley Says:

      Hi, There are time-released melatonin formulas which can help with waking in the middle of the night. It is taken at bedtime. Peoples response to melatonin can be individual, if you’re feeling groggy in the morning you can try a lower dose of melatonin, or earlier in the night.
      Best, Dr. Catherine


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