Should I Take Melatonin For My Insomnia?
The first thing we should be clear about is, what exactly is melatonin? Melatonin is a substance (a hormone) secreted by the pineal gland in the brain that has a rapid, mild sleepiness-inducing effect. For this reason, some people take melatonin for insomnia to help regulate their normal sleep cycle, although some concerns remain about its safety, especially for long-term use.
Your circadian rhythm can be defined as the normal daily cycles that your body goes through. During each 24-hour cycle, levels of hormones rise and fall depending on the moment of the day; your kidneys produce more urine during the day and less at night; and your body temperature is higher at some times of the day than others (it tends to fall just before we go to sleep, for example). These are normal, rhythmic changes that help us be alert and functioning when we need to be, and to rest and rejuvenate at other times.
Some people believe that taking melatonin for insomnia helps maintain your normal sleep cycle. This belief is based on the fact that melatonin levels increase as it gets dark and peak during the middle of the night, and so melatonin is seen as synchronizing your sleep to the night. In fact, research tends to show that melatonin does not control sleep as such, but most likely is only one of many factors that explain why sleep during the night seems deeper, more refreshing and more restful.
Melatonin For Insomnia Caused By Circadian Rhythm Disorders
There are certain times when your normal sleep cycle gets disrupted - you feel sleepy during the day and can’t sleep at night. One example of this is jet lag, when your body is on one time, and the location where you have just arrived is on another time. Your body continues to produce melatonin on its usual schedule. It may be breakfast time in London, but your body feels that it should be fast asleep and shouldn’t be woken for quite some time yet. In this particular situation, it can indeed be helpful to take melatonin, although it seems that it is much more effective for people traveling eastwards than those going westward.
Another group of people who may benefit from taking melatonin for insomnia is night workers. People who work during the night get their biological clocks really messed up for two reasons. First, they are awake during the dark hours and try to sleep during the light hours. But then, when they have one or more days off work, their natural instinct is to synchronize their timetables again with the family and friends around them and they try to resume a normal sleep schedule. Thus, they are constantly changing their hours of sleep. In these cases, since melatonin production is suppressed by light, it does indeed seem to be helpful to take melatonin for insomnia when you are trying to sleep during daylight hours.
Although much more research remains to be done, it seems clear that taking melatonin for insomnia can be helpful when the insomnia is due to changes in your normal sleep cycle. It can either supplement the melatonin your body produces naturally, so that you can sleep during the day, or it can help reset your biological clock so that you sleep better at night.
In all cases, however, it must be remembered that insomnia is a symptom of many different disorders, including neurological and other medical disorders and psychiatric problems, and as such requires evaluation by a physician. In certain cases, melatonin may not be an appropriate treatment and should never be used except under a physician’s supervision.