A little while back, I was in a Facebook Group that had a new post from another member. She told us she’s been experiencing insomnia symptoms at night and wanted to know what others take to help them sleep. That one post received dozens of comments, and all of the advice given was to go to the nearest drugstore and buy a bottle of melatonin.
Several people posted pictures of the brand they take, and this one post inspired me to make a podcast episode and a blog post about it, because this happens so often!
Because it’s sold over-the-counter, we assume that Melatonin is completely safe. And because it is often sold in the vitamin section, and the bottle has an image of a plant on it, we assume it’s completely natural.
WHAT IS MELATONIN?
Melatonin is a hormone that is made naturally in the body by the pineal gland. The pineal gland is responsible for letting your body know when it’s time to sleep and time to wake up. Your body makes melatonin at night, and the levels drop in the morning. The amount of light you get each day, in-addition to your own body clock, determines how much melatonin your body will make.
Knowing all of this just confirms my mission - to help you make small shifts in your daily routines, to create nightly rituals that will ease anxiety, help you relax before bed, and prioritize sleep so that you don’t need to rely on an external source to help you get the sleep you need.
As I was reading through the comments on the Facebook post I mentioned earlier, one comment really got my attention. A woman suggested she try “a combination of Melatonin and Benadryl, which is what she takes every night.”
When I read that I actually started to shake a little, and after yelling several things at my computer, I began typing angrily in all caps at the bottom of the thread. "PLEASE DON’T START TAKING MELATONIN, and certainly not with BENADRYL! Sleeplessness is a symptom of another issue. There are SO MANY OTHER THINGS you can try before popping a combination of mystery pills."
INSTEAD OF POPPING A PILL
I proceeded to make a long list of all those things: - Cutting down on your caffeine intake, especially in the afternoon. - Reducing your exposure to blue light in the evening by having a tech curfew or installing blue light filters on your devices.
- Creating a peaceful evening ritual that relaxes you and helps prepare your mind and body for sleep.
I told her that melatonin is for regulating her sleep-wake cycle, which can also be regulated by going to bed around the same time every night, and waking up around the same time every morning.
I suggested she listen to my CALM+COZY Insomnia Podcast for more tips, and told her how focusing on my breath while lying in bed helped me ease my own insomnia symptoms. And like most people who would rather find a quick fix than making some changes, she ignored my post and engaged in conversation about what brand of melatonin to buy.
The thing about melatonin that worries me THE MOST is how often people with no medical background or knowledge about it are suggesting it to other people. It certainly doesn’t help that it’s sold among the other self-prescribing products in the health food section of the grocery store.
SIDE EFFECTS OF MELATONIN
I realize I’m being really dramatic about this, but I just want you to realize that everything you put into your body affects it in some way, and you should know what you’re taking before you do.
Melatonin has side effects which include:
Feelings of depression
I don’t know about you, but if I were experiencing any of the side effects above, I would be making an appointment with my doctor. So one problem is solved but now we have a handful of other problems.
When I asked my Instagram and Facebook followers about their side effects from melatonin, their responses included:
Scary + disturbing nightmares
Waking up feeling hungover and groggy
Becoming dependent on it to fall asleep every night
One woman said she felt “Totally destroyed in the morning.”
DANGERS OF MELATONIN WITH OTHER DRUGS
I also want to point out the possible interactions with other drugs, including sedatives, birth control pills, and caffeine. Did your neighbour tell you that one? Because I can pretty much guarantee most people who pop a few melatonin pills at night are still enjoying their cup of coffee the next morning. Most likely because they’re waking-up tired and need caffeine to function.
I have also been told by another wellness professional that melatonin interferes with ovulation, making it harder to conceive. A LOT of women struggle with sleep issues, and if they’re self-medicating with melatonin, they’re not being told this vital information.
Another thing that should concern you is the quality of melatonin you’re buying.
SleepHQ messaged me and said this:
Because melatonin is sold as a ‘health supplement’ it does not need to be regulated by the FDA, meaning that they vary hugely in quality. Most of them sold now are synthetic rather than ‘natural’ and therefore some people are taking unregulated capsules which contain other unlisted or unrecognizable ingredients. Also, you now see ‘extra strength’ 10mg capsules, when all of the research shows that the most effective dose is very small, around 0.3mgs.
Along with the worrisome side effects that were shared with me, I also received some positive feedback. There are many people who take melatonin daily who have done so with great success. Those people also let me know that it was their Doctor or Naturopath who subscribed it and monitored their dose.
IS MELATONIN BAD?
The point of this is not to tell you melatonin is the devil and you shouldn’t take it. The point is to make it clear that melatonin is not an herbal supplement that you should be running to every time you have a rough night’s sleep.
Could your sleep issue be a symptom of another problem?
Could it be eased by managing stress, going to bed at a different time, spending your hour before bed preparing for sleep instead of cramming in one more Netflix episode?
Is a side effect of a medication or supplement that you’re already taking affecting your sleep?
What small changes can you make today to make tonight’s sleep more of a priority?
If you think melatonin is the only answer, talk to a health professional who knows your history, and do your research.