3 Common Myths About Melatonin

Steve Kroening, ND
November 14, 2018

 

If you struggle to fall asleep and stay asleep, you might be looking at your options for medical sleeping aids. The one I recommend and take is melatonin. It doesn’t have the problems (such as addiction and other side effects) that the drugs carry with them.

But there are several myths surrounding melatonin that you need to consider before taking the natural sleeping aid.

Myth #1: Melatonin Can Mess Up Other Hormones

When Tina first told me she wasn’t sleeping well, I quickly suggested melatonin. She looked at me a little surprised and said, “But my doctor says I shouldn’t take melatonin. He says it’s a hormone and can mess with my other hormones.”

I said, “Well, he’s right about it being a hormone. However, while it can affect other hormones, it doesn’t mess them up. In fact, it can help balance them.”

Here’s the reality. After puberty, your body’s ability to make melatonin decreases as you age. By the time you reach 40 or 50, your production has dropped off significantly. And so does the production of your other hormones. It’s during this age when hormones can get out of balance.

Research is showing that melatonin is really a super hormone. It’s involved in many different bodily functions. For instance, it plays a role in the body’s antioxidant defenses, it fights cancer, and it helps regulate your blood pressure. But that’s not all it helps regulate. Studies show melatonin plays an important role in regulating your body temperature (think thyroid hormone), your cortisol levels (stress hormone), and your sexual and immune function (both hormone related).

Melatonin also has a “calming” effect on several reproductive hormones. Sense melatonin helps you calm down, this shouldn’t surprise us. But this does a lot more than you might imagine. By calming down the reproductive hormones, it protects us against sex hormone-driven cancers, including ovarian, endometrial, breast, prostate, and testicular cancers.

So taking melatonin doesn’t mess up your hormones or throw them out of balance. It actually works to regulate and balance your hormones.

Myth #2: Melatonin Should Be Used Daily to Help Children Sleep

I read a disturbing report the other day. Matthew Hanrahan of the Guardian said, “Tens of thousands of children and young people in England are being given the hormone melatonin to help them sleep.” This isn’t happening just in England. I know many parents who give their children melatonin every night to help them sleep.

It might surprise you that I’m not a big fan of this practice. While Hanrahan was concerned about the possible side effects of the hormone on the children, that’s not my concern. Melatonin is perfectly safe for children to take on occasion when they can’t get to sleep. But parents who give their children melatonin every day to sleep are usually using it as a crutch. Rather than teaching their children discipline and how to behave, the parents let their children act the way they want and then give them a sleep aid to knock them out.

One of the experts quoted in the report said it well. Dr Michael Farquhar, a consultant in sleep medicine at the Evelina children’s hospital, part of Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS foundation trust, said children taking melatonin is “not a good or bad thing.” He said: “It can be right for the right child in the right context.… I would expect to see increase in use, but whether it is a valid increase in prescription is hard to say. We would need to know the reason it is being prescribed and whether there was a benefit in its use.… A much bigger piece of work is needed to find that out.”

Farquhar said he was concerned that some people saw melatonin as a quick fix. “Behavior interventions are more likely to be effective in the long-term and a better pediatric principle,” he said.

In many cases, good parenting is what the child needs. In other cases, there might be a need for some melatonin. But most children don’t have a deficiency in melatonin, particularly those that haven’t gone through puberty. If they do, we need to ask why? What is causing it? Until we know the answers to those questions, regularly giving children a sleep aid isn’t a good idea.

With all that said, there is one exception to my thoughts on children taking melatonin. If a child has ADHD, it could be the result of a melatonin deficiency. They might not be sleeping well. If your child has ADHD and you’re teaching your child discipline, you’re getting them to bed at a decent time in a dark room (no night lights or other light-producing devices), and they’re not eating a ton of sugar, then melatonin (3 mg nightly) might be needed. But don’t jump to melatonin before you do everything else. Sometimes a higher dose is needed, but start small and work up to higher doses. Try to find the lowest dose possible to help them sleep through the night.

Myth #3: Small Doses of Melatonin Are All You Need

While children typically don’t need even small doses of melatonin on a daily basis, adults over the age of 40 don’t either. Adults don’t need small doses – they need large doses.

I talk to a lot of people who take melatonin to help them sleep, and many of them are disappointed with the results. They tell me it helps them get to sleep, but it just doesn’t keep them asleep all night.

The first thing I ask is “How much are you taking?” Without exception, they all say 3-5 mg nightly. And I quickly respond, “That’s probably why you’re not sleeping as well as you’d like. You’re not taking enough.”

Consider this: Back in 2001, when melatonin was just making news, researchers at MIT thought they found the best dosage to sleep through the night. They said, “According to our research, the physiological dose of melatonin of about 0.3 milligrams restores sleep in adults over the age of 50. The adults who would normally wake up during the second and third thirds of the night were able to sleep through the night with the 0.3 milligram dosage.”

So 17 years ago, medical research found that 0.3 mg will help you sleep through the night. And yet people today can’t sleep through the night on 3-5 mg – at least 10 times the dose MIT said we need.

Well, if you go on WebMD today, they take a little different tone. Their experts say, “A high dose of 10 mg taken an hour before bedtime for up to 9 weeks has also been used. For trouble falling asleep: 0.3 to 5 mg of melatonin daily for up to 9 months has been used. For sleeping problems in people with sleep-wake cycle disturbances: 2-12 mg of melatonin taken at bedtime for up to 4 weeks has been used.”

Read that last sentence again. For people who aren’t sleeping through the night – meaning they wake up in that second and third part of the night – they can take up to 12 mg at bedtime. That’s 400 times the dose used by MIT.

Even with this massive increase in suggested doses, the medical establishment is still behind the times. We know the tendency in medicine is to be conservative. With drugs, this is a good idea. They’re often not conservative enough. But with certain supplements, we’re learning that we can be a lot more liberal in our dosing. This isn’t the case with all supplements (such as calcium, magnesium, and others). But with melatonin, more is often better. A lot more.

How Much More Should You Take?

If you’re over the age of 40 and you’re not able to get to sleep or you’re waking up during the night, high doses of melatonin could be the key to a great night sleep. But just how much should you take?

Animal research has used dosages that would be equivalent to 1,000 mg in humans and haven’t seen any negative side effects in those massive doses. At this point, there isn’t any evidence that shows a toxic level of melatonin. So the 12 mg doses mentioned by WebMD are just their safe guess. But you can take much more.

Remember, the goal is to sleep through the night. So taking 3-12 mg per night might get the job done for you. If it does, great. But if it doesn’t, you can move the dose up to 20 mg per night and see how that works.

Many people over the age of 60 find that they need even more. Doses of 60-120 mg per night are common. Does this dose scare you? It shouldn’t! Some doctors who use melatonin to support cancer treatment are using 180 mg per night with no side effects. And others recommend taking 300 mg a few hours before getting a CT scan, as it protects you from the radiation. Again, no side effects.

The next thing you’re going to ask is about those pills you have to take. Taking 60 mg a night using 3 mg tablets requires you to take 20 pills per night. If you use 5 mg tablets, you’ll still have to take 12 pills every night. That’s a lot of pills. Fortunately, there are several products online that have 20 mg pills. This is a great place to start. There’s only one 60 mg tablet on the market. It’s sold by Perfect Vitamin Products and you can order it by following this link. Taking just one of these pills can help you sleep all night without waking up until you’re ready to get up. It’s a wonderful feeling waking up refreshed and ready to go.

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