We all want a better night’s sleep for ourselves and our children. You may have heard a friend casually comment that she got her fussy toddler to sleep with a melatonin supplement. Maybe you’ve used it yourself to fall asleep quicker.
Here are four facts about melatonin that can help you determine whether it’s right for you and your family.
4 Facts about Melatonin
1. It is a natural body-produced hormone.
Many people view melatonin as a natural sleeping pill when in actuality, it is a hormone your body naturally produces to help your snooze. It’s quite fascinating really.
Melatonin is often referred to as the “Dracula hormone” because it only comes out at night. This hormone is produced by your pineal gland—a pea-sized gland above the mid-brain, and is activated when the sun goes down. Night falls, your melatonin hormone rises and stays elevated for 12 hours while you sleep. By daylight, melatonin levels fall back down to where they are barely detectable. Our body is a cool machine!
2. You can buy melatonin supplements to adjust your body’s internal clock.
Melatonin supplements are creating quite a buzz lately. On one end of the spectrum you have individuals popping capsules like they are a magical and “natural” sleep portal. On the other end are wary people who aren’t quite sure what to make of melatonin supplements. Are they really safe?
An increasing number of parents are giving their kids melatonin to help them fall asleep, probably because melatonin offers a “quick fix” and it is the only hormone available without a prescription.
The fact is that melatonin is meant for people whose internal sleep clocks are a bit off, like those experiencing jet lag, a shift change at work, or blindness. Melatonin is not a long term sleeping pill and must be taken in correct dosages (especially if given to children).
One study relates that melatonin actually suppresses some hormones that regulate puberty. Chronic melatonin use could mess up normal childhood hormonal development and that is something to be concerned about.
3. Melatonin can help you fall asleep more easily, but it won’t help you sleep more soundly.
It’s true that the occasional melatonin supplement will help you fall asleep more easily, but it has nothing to do with the quality of your sleep. If you are giving melatonin to your child, hoping it will help him sleep through the night, you might be disappointed.
The very best thing you can do to achieve regular sleep patterns is to keep a regular sleep schedule. Your body starts increasing natural melatonin levels about two hours before you go to bed. That means by going to bed around the same time each night will help you sleep better. You don’t need a supplement for that.
4. Red light good, blue light bad
If you or your child is having difficulty falling asleep, it may be because of the type of light exposure your brain is getting.
Blue light (the kind emitted from television, computer, and phone screens) is like the Green Goblin to melatonin. It thwarts your melatonin production, making it harder to fall asleep. On the other hand, red light (a soft lamplight or a nightlight) radiates at a lower energy and can help ready your body for sleep.
Instead of turning to a pill, first try limiting your exposure to blue light before bed time and try increasing the red light.
The bottom line: melatonin may be a good option for getting your body’s internal clock back in rhythm, but it’s probably not a long-term solution. Stick to a regular routine and let your natural melatonin do it’s work.