Sleep is a vital part of our lives which we tend to notice only after pulling an all-nighter as students. However, many people struggle with long- or short-term sleep disturbances such as insomnia or those caused by jet lag. One of the most popular and readily available treatments is melatonin. In this article, we will explore the mechanism standing behind the effects of melatonin and evaluate if it can really help with sleep problems.
Let’s start with getting to know something more about sleep itself. As you probably know, sleep is not a completely uniform process, it can be divided into 4 stages. The first stage lasts around 1-5 minutes and quickly changes to stage 2 which lasts around 10-60 minutes. During that time, your body temperature decreases and your breathing rate slows down. Unsurprisingly, the next stage is stage 3 which is the deepest part of the sleep. It encompasses further changes in brain activity which scientists linked to effective thinking and memory. The last stage involves the most intense dreaming and temporary paralysis of most of the body muscles apart from those which control breathing.
Now, melatonin. Melatonin is a hormone produced by the pineal gland which regulates our circadian rhythm. It responds to the blue light which means that its release is inhibited when we use too much technology, especially before sleep. When melatonin levels increase (which happens around 2h before our bed time if we have a consistent sleep schedule), we become more sleepy. It is hypothesized that melatonin can help people with jet leg before it occurs if they start taking the pills at the time they intend to go to bed in the country they are going to. However, healthcare systems don’t recommend this solution in all countries. Melatonin is also thought to help with, e.g. insomnia; however, it’s important to note that it’s not a long term solution. If you take melatonin for more than 1 or 2 months and it doesn’t seem to help, you should seek medical help.
bauer, Brent. “Pros and Cons of Melatonin.” Mayo Clinic, 2017, www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/adult-health/expert-answers/melatonin-side-effects/faq-20057874.
Haddad-Garcia, Dietitian Maria Laura. “What Happens to Your Body When You Take Melatonin Every Night.” EatingWell, 4 Mar. 2023, www.eatingwell.com/article/8011202/what-happens-to-your-body-when-you-take-melatonin-every-night/.
Johns Hopkins Medicine. “Melatonin for Sleep: Does It Work?” Johns Hopkins Medicine, 2012, www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/wellness-and-prevention/melatonin-for-sleep-does-it-work.