Melatonin is important as part of our circadian rhythm to help induce sleep. There are many things that can decrease melatonin production such as blue light emitting devices in the evening (think phones, TV, tablets, e-book readers, etc.), medications (like beta-blockers and benzodiazepines) and drinking caffinated coffee in the afternoon.
Get ready for this….stay with me here…this is how it’s all connected with diet! When you consume tryptophan in your diet it is absorbed, converted to 5-HTP, then made into serotonin. Serotonin is then converted to melatonin. Having adequate (not excessive) dietary intake of protein provides enough tryptophan to make this whole process happen. Also, very important to consider dietary intake of niacin (Vitamin B3). If you do not have enough niacin intake from your diet, your body uses tryptophan to make niacin (instead of melatonin and serotonin). We would not want to rely on this conversion as a good source of niacin because it’s inefficient (1mg of niacin is made from 60mg of tryptophan). This is the super simplified version, but know that there are a number of other important factors that can also influence synthesis of melatonin. (Source: ODS and AHRQ)
Melatonin is known to cause vivid dreams (which can be pretty neat if you’re ready for it) and not surprisingly one of the symptoms of insufficient dietary intake of tryptophan can be poor dream recall and difficulty sleeping.
Sometimes supplementation makes sense if our bodies melatonin production might be temporarily thrown off, like in the case of jet lag. When you supplement with melatonin what you’re buying in stores is synthetic, although there is animal derived melatonin but this must be listed on the label.
I have have seen many cases where melatonin has been very helpful for sleep. However, recently I have also see a case where it was not, but the dose kept getting increased in hopes that it would help eventually. The recommended dose for sleep is 1-3mg and even sometimes up to 5mg. Beyond that there are other indications it may be used for, but for sleep I have concerns at higher doses especially when used on a nightly basis. Melatonin is best used only as needed.
If 5mg is not working, it is likely a good time to consider if melatonin is the correct supplement to be taking and to look again at what might be the root cause of the sleep disturbance.
Remember, melatonin is a hormone, and it’s important to know that at higher doses melatonin can affect how testosterone and estrogen are metabolised. This can lead to decreased sperm function in men and suppressed ovulation in women. Be cautious, if you’re taking oral contraceptives they can slow down the metabolism of melatonin (similar to taking a higher dose) (source: PubMed). Post-menopausal women need to be aware too as melatonin may cause the menstrual flow to resume or cause spotting. Also, important to know, melatonin may make bones more dense but also more likely to fracture, so again use only when necessary and avoid prolonged use (source: Consumerlab.com and Age and Ageing) .
Finally, remember that safety has not been established in pregnancy, lactation, or young children. In many countries melatonin is available only by prescription.
If you’re having troubles sleeping here are some ideas:
- Journal, write down your thoughts and let them go.
- Give yourself time to unwind, reflect, and process thoughts and emotions.
- Restorative Yoga
- Meditation, even just a few minutes before bed can be beneficial. I love using the Muse Headband before bedtime and when I wake up in the morning.
- Ensure you’re eating adequate protein (and actually breaking it down so that it is absorbed).
- Skip the afternoon caffeine. Drink calming herbal teas such as my favorites Chamomile Lavender and Tulsi Rose.
- Watch the sunset then turn down the lights in the evening (consider lighting unscented candles).
- Avoid blue light emitting devices at night (ie. TV, computers, phones, etc.)
- Vitamin N…Nature. Get outside during the day and enjoy some natural light exposure! If it’s the middle of winter and you aren’t seeing the light often consider a 10,000 LUX light box.
- Take a magnesium salt bath in the evening
- Apply 1-2 drops of lavender oil to your pillowcase or diffuse in your bedroom.