This article was previously published on October 24, 2019 and has been updated with new information.
Melatonin, a hormone that most people believe is primarily produced by the body’s pineal gland, is a popular supplement used by an estimated 3.1 million Americans.1 One of its primary roles is to regulate the body’s circadian rhythm, and melatonin supplements are often used as a sleep aid or to help with sleep problems associated with shift work, jet lag, and sleep disturbances.
However, the reality is that over 95% of the melatonin your body produces is produced by exposure to near-infrared light on your skin, which causes your mitochondria to produce melatonin.I am in my Landmark article published earlier this year.
Can melatonin be taken every night?
Melatonin has a very safe record with few reports of adverse events, especially when taken in low doses between 0.5 milligrams (mg) and 5 mg. Michael Grandner, director of the Sleep and Health Research Program at the University of Arizona, noted in Time that “melatonin is very safe when taken in normal doses.”2
In fact, melatonin appears to have a number of beneficial “side effects,” and it has even been suggested that the hormone may have primarily acted as an antioxidant in the first place.3
“Some emerging science suggests that in people with higher levels of inflammation — which could be because they’re obese, or because they’re in [intensive care unit] For transplants — melatonin in the 6 mg to 10 mg range may lower inflammatory markers,” Helen Burgess, co-director of the Sleep and Circadian Rhythm Research Laboratory at the University of Michigan, told TIME.4
For example, melatonin deficiency has been linked to obesity. When 30 obese patients on a calorie-restricted diet were given 10 mg of melatonin daily for 30 days, there was a significant weight loss — something that did not occur in the non-melatonin group.5
In addition, melatonin supplementation reduces oxidative stress and modulates adipokines involved in inflammatory processes.
“Melatonin supplementation aids in weight loss, improves antioxidant defenses, and modulates adipokines secretion,” the researchers noted. “The findings strongly suggest that melatonin should be considered in obesity management.”6 Other beneficial effects of melatonin include:7
- Plays a role in the regulation of metabolism and energy balance
- preserve mitochondrial function
- Anti-inflammatory and immunomodulatory effects
- Direct and indirect antioxidant properties
Antidiabetic effects of melatonin
There is some evidence that melatonin may be beneficial for hyperglycemia in people with diabetes. In one animal study, melatonin decreased oxidative stress and increased adiponectin, a hormone known to lower glucose levels and increase lipolysis.8 It also improved dyslipidemia, or abnormal levels of fat in the blood, especially at high doses.
Meanwhile, melatonin is more potent in people with variants in the melatonin receptor 1B (MTNR1B) gene, which may increase the risk of diabetes. In a study of 23 genetic variant carriers and 22 non-carriers, both groups took 4 mg of melatonin at bedtime for three months.
After melatonin supplementation, variant carriers had decreased insulin secretion and significantly increased blood glucose levels.9 So while overall melatonin appears to be very safe, there are some conflicting findings, especially at higher doses. However, for most people who use melatonin as a sleep aid, only very small doses are needed – usually starting at 0.25 mg or 0.5 mg and can be adjusted upwards from there.
Even in the treatment of jet lag, 0.5 to 5 mg of melatonin per day is equally effective, and more than 5 mg of melatonin is no longer effective.10 The researchers again concluded that, with the exception of causing drowsiness when taken at the wrong time earlier in the day, “the incidence of other side effects is low”…”occasional short-term use appears to be safe.”11
Long-term effects of melatonin unknown
Although melatonin is considered relatively safe when used in the short and even medium term (up to 18 months), the long-term effects of melatonin, including in children, are largely unknown. Possible negative interactions have been suggested to occur in people with epilepsy or in people taking warfarin – these associations require further investigation.12 Melatonin is also sometimes used in children and has been found to be beneficial in children with sleep disorders.13
However, there is some research suggesting that long-term use of it may interfere with the production of hormones associated with puberty.14 Additionally, even children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and chronic insomnia need caution, according to one study:15
“There are few systematic studies on the possible effects of melatonin intake on puberty and the endocrine system. Therefore, melatonin therapy is used in children with ADHD and (C)SOI [chronic sleep-onset insomnia] Best reserved for children with persistent insomnia, which has serious implications for daily functioning, especially if the endogenous circadian rhythm is significantly phase-shifted. “
It is important to remember that melatonin is a hormone and it may have unknown effects. “There’s no question that melatonin has an incredible safety record,” Dr. Mark Moyad, director of preventive and alternative medicine at the University of Michigan’s Jenkins/Pomkempner, told TIME. “But it’s a hormone, and you don’t want to mess around with hormones until you know what they’re doing.”16
That’s why I personally don’t take any melatonin supplements. However, I am actively exposing my skin to a lot of NIR throughout the day, from my NIR sauna four times a week to my 90-minute walk in the sun to my near-infrared turning on my office in front of my computer Light bulb, 20 minutes dose of near-infrared and red light from my photobiomodulation panel every night before going to bed at home.
Cannabidiol and 5-HTP for sleep
Cannabidiol (CBD), the non-psychoactive component of marijuana, has shown promising medical uses, including for sleep. The U.S. CBD market was estimated at $600 million in 2018 and is expected to exceed $20 billion by 2022.17 CBD has been found to have neuroprotective, anti-inflammatory and immunomodulatory effects,18 And is being studied as a possible sleep aid.
“There is evidence that CBD has a sedative effect on the central nervous system,” the researchers wrote in The Permanente Journal.19 Their study involved 103 adults with anxiety or poor sleep who used CBD as a treatment. Sleep scores improved in 66.7% of participants within the first month; anxiety scores also improved by 79.2%. CBD may also have therapeutic potential to treat insomnia.20
Like melatonin, CBD appears to be very safe overall. “[T]The researchers went on to say that the most significant benefit of cannabis as a form of treatment is safety. “There have been no reports of fatal overdose of any one cannabinoid, and major complications other than concerns about abuse are very limited. Current research suggests that the overall risk of short-term cannabis use is low, but more research is needed to clarify possible Long-term risks and hazards.”twenty one
If you’re looking for a natural sleep aid, you’ve probably heard of 5-HTP. Your body produces 5-HTP (5-hydroxytryptophan) from the amino acid tryptophan (found in foods like poultry, eggs, and cheese). However, eating foods rich in tryptophan is unlikely to significantly increase your 5-HTP levels, so 5-HTP supplements (made from the seed extract of the African tree Griffonia simplicifolia) are sometimes used.
The chemical 5-HTP works in your brain and central nervous system by boosting the production of the neurotransmitter serotonin, which may help improve mood and enhance sleep. 5-HTP has been used to treat insomnia,twenty two This may be because it helps increase melatonin.
Because 5-HTP makes serotonin, and serotonin can be converted into melatonin, this supplement is used for insomnia and works by increasing the body’s production of melatonin. Combining 5-HTP with GABA was found to reduce sleep onset time from an average of 32.3 minutes to 19.1 minutes, while increasing sleep time and improving sleep quality, in 18 patients with sleep disorders.twenty three
In another study, patients with abnormal sleep and/or DOA (disordered arousal) characterized by abnormal or abnormal behaviors such as night terrors or sleepwalking were told that 5-HTP may be a beneficial treatment option.twenty four
Boost melatonin levels naturally
Sleep problems are common among adults and even teens. More teens slept less than seven hours a night in 2015 compared to 2009, and the use of electronic devices and social media also increased during this period.25 So if you’re having trouble falling or staying asleep, practice sleep hygiene first, even before trying natural supplements like melatonin.
It is important to avoid watching TV or using a computer/smartphone or tablet at least an hour before bedtime at night. Brightness and exposure to blue and white wavelengths of light appear to affect melatonin production, the exact wavelengths of light emitted by tablets, laptops and computers.26
The researchers also wrote in the journal Nature and Sleep Science, “The non-pharmacological approach [for treating sleep disturbances] Ranging from sleep hygiene and psychoeducation, cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia, physical exercise and mindfulness-based meditation, to relaxation-based therapy. “27
Additionally, melatonin supplementation may be most effective for people with low melatonin levels. If your levels are optimized, you may not experience additional sleep benefits from adding supplements – you may be able to sleep better naturally.
To that end, it makes sense to develop habits that can increase natural melatonin production and improve overall health and sleep, without the need for supplements. This includes:
• A large amount of near-infrared radiation during the day — As mentioned above, I’m actively exposing my skin to loads of NIR throughout the day, from my four weekly NIR saunas to my 90-minute walks in the sun, to my office opening while I’m at the office. NIR light bulb computer, 20 minutes dose of NIR and red light from my photobiomodulation panel every night before going to bed at home.
• morning sun- Melatonin is affected by your exposure to light and darkness. Melatonin production naturally declines at dawn. Getting at least 15 minutes of sunlight in the morning can help regulate melatonin production, lowering it to normal daytime levels, allowing you to feel awake during the day and sleep better at night.
• sleep in the dark- Your body produces and secretes melatonin in the dark to help you fall asleep and stay asleep. Sleeping in a completely dark room, without an alarm clock, TV or other source of light, will improve your sleep quality.
If you get up at night to use the bathroom, be sure to turn off the lights so you don’t stop producing melatonin. Also, wear blue light blocking glasses after sunset to avoid exposure to blue light.
• Lower your stress levels and cortisol levels — The release of melatonin depends on the release of another hormone, norepinephrine. Excessive stress, and the resulting release of cortisol, will inhibit the release of norepinephrine, which in turn inhibits the release of melatonin.28 Stress reduction strategies before bed may help you, including yoga, stretching, meditation, and prayer.
• Increase magnesium-rich foods— Magnesium plays a role in reducing nocturnal brain activity, helping you relax and fall asleep more easily. It works synergistically with melatonin. Foods high in magnesium include leafy green vegetables such as almonds, cashews, pumpkin seeds, and spinach.29