Over the years, the use of melatonin for sleep has seen a significant increase, especially in the United States. This is a situation that particularly worries specialists because this product is often used wrongly and through because of the lack of knowledge on the subject.
Melatonin is a hormone produced by the pineal gland, a gland in the brain. Its main function is the regulation of sleep. Melatonin levels in the body increase in response to darkness, signaling to the brain that night is falling and therefore it is time to sleep. Similarly, bright light in the morning stops the production of melatonin, which allows the brain to recognize morning and therefore time to wake up. It is this day-night regulation of melatonin and light that defines the internal sleep-wake clock or circadian cycle.
Thus, it is interesting to understand the origin of sleep disorders as well as the role of melatonin in its regulation.
The origin of sleep disorders
A circadian cycle disorder occurs when there is a mismatch between the internal clock and the socially accepted time for falling asleep or waking up. It can occur when jet lag occurs, following travel across time zones. However, a sleep disorder can also appear without traveling, for example when one remains exposed to bright lights until late hours during the night. This tricks the brain into believing that it is still daylight. Thus, the body does not produce melatonin and the feeling of drowsiness only occurs very late at night, or even early in the morning.
This is a common problem among young people who stay up late in front of their screens. Turning off the lights at a reasonable time and avoiding screens before going to bed would be enough to correct these disorders, but the process takes time. Often, patients prefer to use a melatonin supplement to speed up the adjustment of the circadian cycle. However, with the increase in the use of new technologies, sleep disorders are more and more frequent, as is the use of melatonin. The latter is indeed an easy solution for insomnia problems.
Proper use of melatonin
In some countries, such as the United States, melatonin is available without a prescription. However, a lack of regulation can lead to a risk of overdose. A study showed that in melatonin supplements available on the market, the content of the hormone ranged from -83% to +478% of the labeled content. In addition, other substances not reported in the preparation may also be present in the product such as serotonin and valerian.
You should know that even though melatonin is a natural hormone, it can cause side effects such as headaches and dizziness. In addition, it also presents a risk of drug interaction, in particular with anticoagulants.
Melatonin should therefore only be a short-term (one to three months) low-dose (0.5 to 1 mg) treatment for sleep disorders. Its use requires the advice of a specialist. In addition to taking melatonin, it is recommended to avoid factors that promote sleep disorders such as caffeine consumption after 3 p.m., intense physical exercise in the evening and the use of screens before bedtime.