Melatonin–Dr. Natalie Crawford

It is almost time for daylight saving time, so let’s talk about sleep and melatonin.

Melatonin communicates to the brain (specifically, the hypothalamus) the time of day by interpreting light signals in the pineal gland. At night, melatonin is increased which lowers body temperature and helps communicate that it is time for sleeping.

Some people recommend taking melatonin if you have difficulty sleeping, travel, or those who work night shifts. The belief is that supplementing with melatonin may help your brain interpret that it is time for night and help you fall asleep better. This is good in theory; however, melatonin supplements often are 3mg or 5mg in formulation. This is way too much!

To replicate normal physiology you should only take 300mcg (you can see that just a 3mg supplement is 10 times too much!) There is a common misconception with herbs/supplements that “some is good, so more must be better” – this is not true. When you take 10x the amount of melatonin as the body needs, you are hypothermic too long and this actually desensitizes receptors in the brain making them more resistant to melatonin and HARDER for you to synchronize your light signals and time of day. Thus, harder to get to sleep….

There is nothing wrong with taking melatonin supplements, especially if you need to work overnight shifts and have trouble falling asleep with the sun coming up. But don’t take more than you need – you will be doing more harm than good!

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