Melatonin – Is It Your Sleep Solution?

With daylight savings just around the corner, the days getting shorter and busier with holiday festivities – for many of us getting enough sleep is top of mind. Whether you sleep great or need some help achieving blissful slumber, my guest today, Dr. Meghan O’Reilly has everything you need to know about Melatonin and why it could be the key to a better nights sleep in your future.

Take it away Meghan!

Melatonin – Is It Your Sleep Solution?

One interesting thing about working in the medical field is that there is a tendency for conditions to show up in your practice in waves: one month you see no one with back pain and the next month you see back pain in droves. This month for me has been centered around sleep. And specifically, people asking about melatonin. In Turks and Caicos where I practice, melatonin is over the counter, as it is in Canada where I was trained. But in many European countries such as England and Germany, melatonin requires a prescription. So what gives? Is it safe or not?

First thing to recognize, is that melatonin is a hormone. It is something that everyone, both male and female, produces during sleep. So whenever you take a substance that your body makes (hormone, enzyme, etc) you must consider that after some time, your body will slow down it’s own production. This is called down-regulating and it is done in the attempt to be efficient. Your body says, “hey I’m getting this consistently from some other source, so why use up resources by making it myself?” The bottom line is that short term this is not an issue but pulse-dosing (taking melatonin for short periods then stopping and starting again when necessary) is a better idea and it’s best to be checking in with a health care professional to monitor your use.

Other interesting facts about melatonin:

  • levels start increasing at night when it becomes dark and they peak around 2-4am (this can be affected by working late into the night or especially overnight shifts)
  • Bright full spectrum light drastically reduces your signal to produce melatonin
  • People make anywhere from 10-85mg in a 24 hour period.
  • The darker your bedroom is, the more you will naturally produce.
  • Serotonin is a precursor to melatonin and an ND can explain to you how this all ties into mood

Bear in might that dosage is also something to consider. Trying to find the lowest effective dose is important. In a liquid form, you can often find 0.3mg. As you creep up into doses of 3mg and beyond (which are commonly found over the counter), you are risking suppressing your own production faster.

I actually agree with melatonin as a prescription substance.  However, I also feel that melatonin is a much better choice than pharmaceutical options for sleep. But even before choosing melatonin, there are other gentle sedative herbs that I personally like to start with first. I’ll also ensure that people are getting the right building blocks to make melatonin like tryptophan (high in foods like  nuts and seeds, organic soy, eggs, and turkey).

Ultimately the absolute best choice for improving sleep is to start with basics. If you want to support your body, you must start with what we call sleep hygiene. This means, turning down the lights when it gets dark, having the same routine every night, avoiding stimulating tasks before bed, turning off screens as early as possible, trying meditation, and sleeping in complete darkness.

The big takeaway from this article is that when you are looking at a supplement, you need to know: is this something my body requires or something my body produces on it’s own? And further ask yourself, If my body does produce it, how much? and when? The way the body works is not as straight forward as most of us would like to think. Small shifts like taking a supplement for a prolonged period of time can lead to consequences down the road so it helps to speak with a health care professional about these things. This is where Naturopathic Doctors are experts. Putting information like this together with the bigger picture of you as a unique individual is what leads to optimal health.

Dr Meghan OReilly, BSc, ND is a Naturopathic Doctor currently practicing in the Turks and Caicos Islands. She is passionate about empowering people to understand how the body can heal itself and what obstacles can stand in the way of this process. Aside from seeing private patients, Dr Meghan works alongside Dr Maryska Taylor to offer the premiere destination in the Caribbean for transformative retreats focusing on nutrition, exercise, sleep, and mindfulness.

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