The following article was written by Heinen’s Chief Dietitian, Melanie Jatsek RD, LD.
Does your bedtime routine consist of binging your favorite television program until you drift off to sleep? Or maybe you watch cute animal videos on YouTube or scroll through social media in bed to help you unwind.
Due to their effect on your body’s production of melatonin, these seemingly harmless activities can cause the opposite effect and promote wakefulness!
What is Melatonin?
Melatonin is a hormone produced by your brain in response to darkness. Think of it as a natural sleep hormone—it helps you fall asleep and stay asleep. Melatonin accomplishes this by regulating the circadian rhythm that controls your sleep-wake cycle. Circadian rhythms are 24-hour cycles that are part of your body’s internal clock.
While environmental factors like temperature and exercise affect your circadian rhythm, light is the most powerful influencer by far because it blocks your brain’s production of melatonin.
Factors that Lower Melatonin Production
The following factors can cause low melatonin levels at night, when you need it most to help you fall asleep:
- Exposure to too much light in the evening hours, especially blue-wavelength light. Blue light is produced naturally by the sun and artificially by light bulbs and electronic devices (i.e., television, laptops, cell phones, iPads, etc.)
- Alcohol consumption
- Shift work
Supplementing with Melatonin
Before turning to melatonin supplements, I recommend establishing these healthy bedtime habits and sticking to them. You may be surprised to find that supplementation isn’t necessary!
- Keep a consistent sleep schedule
- Reduce alcohol consumption, or abstain completely
- Limit caffeine consumption and refrain from drinking it past 12:00 pm
- Minimize exposure to light and electronic devices at least 30 minutes before bed
- Calm your mind naturally with soft music, prayer, meditation or a light-hearted physical book
- Keep your bedroom cool—between 60-67°F.
If you decide to take a melatonin supplement to help correct short term sleep problems, be sure to check with your healthcare provider first as it may interact with certain medications like antidepressants, blood thinners, diabetes medications, anticonvulsants and others.
The right dose of melatonin for you is that which promotes restful sleep with no daytime fatigue. It’s best to start small and take 30 minutes before going to bed. General recommendations are between 0.5-1.0mg. If that doesn’t work, increase the dose to 2-5mg tomorrow night.
You can find supplemental melatonin in Heinen’s Wellness Department. The Heinen’s brand is a tablet, while MegaFood and Nordic Naturals come in gummy form.
Potential Side Effects of Melatonin Supplements
Current research suggests that melatonin supplements are safe and nonaddictive. However, you should be aware that minor side effects like headache, nausea, dizziness and daytime sleepiness have been reported.
Getting adequate, restful sleep is the most important thing you can do for your health. To stimulate your natural production of melatonin, take care to minimize your exposure to light before bed and consider adopting the other healthy sleep habits outlined above. If supplementing with melatonin is something that interests you, just be sure to start small and check with your healthcare provider first!