Everything You Need to Know About Melatonin |

Everything You Need to Know About Melatonin

Sarena-Rae Santos April 14, 2023

With so many people suffering from sleep issues, melatonin is becoming a popular supplement; even I fell for this scandal a few years back when I struggled with insomnia. Remember, melatonin supplements are typically synthetically made, despite the availability of whole food sources, which we will discuss later on, but first, what exactly is melatonin?

Melatonin is a highly lipid-soluble hormone, allowing it to cross cellular membranes and the blood-brain barrier. It is made in the pineal gland from tryptophan. The amount of melatonin naturally increases during the 11 PM – 3 AM time frame. When sunlight is present, another hormone, serotonin, is stored. When serotonin is stored, the enzyme that converts serotonin to melatonin cannot reach it. However, once natural light is unavailable, another hormone – epinephrine – is released, causing serotonin to become available and increasing melatonin production (1). Additionally, melatonin is available in synthetic forms, such as supplementation, to help raise the body’s natural levels and encourage sleep.

Dangers of Melatonin Supplementation

Chronic supplementation can desensitize two of its three receptors, requiring higher doses over time to have the same effect. Most studies show a decrease in effectiveness when supplementing long-term. Melatonin is necessary for sleep health.

Melatonin dramatically affects one’s sleep and circadian rhythm. Both of these functions affect our sleeping habits and many other hormones and processes that we often don’t think about. The adrenal glands and, for example, one of the hormones produced there, cortisol, rely on the circadian rhythm. Cortisol has many functions, such as controlling inflammation, gathering nutrients, and how we respond to stress or injuries. Adrenal glands produce many of our hormones, significantly affecting energy levels. This can leave you exhausted, stressed, sore, and without energy.

One of the most significant risks with synthetic melatonin and cortisol is being on the wrong rhythm. Melatonin should be highest in the late evening and drop by morning, while cortisol is low in the evening and rises in the morning. If that’s off, you may struggle to fall asleep at night or wake up tired/groggy in the morning. You may also experience that “midafternoon slump” that drives many to get another cup of coffee or a sugary snack!

The presence of melatonin outside of the body’s natural circadian rhythm (that 11 PM to 3 AM time frame) can affect the (2):

  • Central nervous system
  • Physiological functions
  • Glucose metabolization
  • Cardiovascular system
  • Immune system
  • Adrenal glands and other hormones
  • and even more, that is only barely beginning to be studied

Another concern about using melatonin for children is its effects on the body, which influences more than sleep. It also plays a role in the way a person’s body matures sexually. Melatonin levels have an impact on how the ovaries and testes function. Further study is needed to determine if taking melatonin during childhood or the teen years can affect a person’s sexual development (3).

Side effects of melatonin can include (4,5):

  • Sleepiness
  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Bedwetting
  • Nightmares
  • Excessive morning sleepiness
  • Excessive perspiration
  • Decreased mood
  • Change in behavior

The directions on a mainstream melatonin bottle state, “for adults, take one tablet daily at bedtime as Melatonin may produce drowsiness,” which is weird since melatonin is considered generally safe for short-term use and is not recommended for long-term use. According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, short-term use of melatonin may not be harmful, but there is insufficient evidence of its long-term safety. In some cases, relying on melatonin could mask another problem (6).

One major issue with melatonin is that it directly alters the body’s hormones. Hormones are chemical messengers that the body should be producing on its own, and if it’s not, there’s a reason why – and simply supplementing melatonin doesn’t address this. A  1-5 mg dose will cause the body’s levels to reach 10-100x “normal” melatonin levels within one hour (7).

One study looked at a group of older women with long-term sleep issues and started them on vitamin D supplements and low doses of melatonin – just 0.5 mg per day (8). This dosage was effective for them, yet most melatonin supplements on the market are 5-10 mg, and even kids’ supplements are 1- 3 mg. This dosage is a lot more than most people need.

When you go to the supermarket, you will find doses 10x the recommended amount. 

According to the Cleveland Clinic, the recommended doses of melatonin are from 0.5 mg up to 5 mg, which are adequate to promote sleep or treat jet lag (9):

  • 40-44 years old: 0.5-1 mg
  • 45-54 years old: 1-2 mg
  • 55-64 years old: 2 mg
  • 65-75 years old: 2.5-5 mg
  • 75+ years old: 3.5-5 mg 

You may think the higher the dose, the more effective it must be. That’s very wrong, and here’s a fact: you can easily overdose on melatonin.

Some symptoms of a melatonin overdose are (10,11):

  • Nausea
  • Dizziness
  • Headaches
  • Irritability
  • Anxiety
  • Diarrhea
  • Joint pain
  • Sleepiness
  • Agitation
  • Daytime grogginess
  • Depression
  • Stomach cramps
  • Low body temperature

It’s mind-blowing that many of these side effects just so happen to match the symptoms of an overdose. All that aside, you should not use melatonin if you have medical conditions such as (12):

  • Diabetes
  • Depression
  • Epilepsy or other seizure disorder
  • An autoimmune condition
  • High or low blood pressure
  • A bleeding or blood clotting disorder such as hemophilia
  • If you’re taking a blood thinner like warfarin
  • Using other sedatives or tranquilizers
  • If you are using any medicine to prevent organ transplant rejection

Everything has a time and place, melatonin included. Melatonin may be natural, but the pills in the stores are synthetic and brimming with toxic fillers. When it comes to melatonin, it’s about getting just enough. Ensure supplementation is short-term and at the appropriate dosage.

That’s not even including the inactive ingredients. For instance, some brands contain ingredients like:

Melatonin, Dextrose, Microcrystalline, Cellulose, Cellulose Gum, Crospovidone, Maltodextrin, Glyceryl Behenate, Sucrose Esters of Fatty Acids, Gum Acacia, Beet Root Powder, Silicon Dioxide, Sucralose, and Artificial Flavor System (Strawberry).

Remember, melatonin may be helpful in the short term for people with long-term sleep difficulties and other changes to try to fix the underlying problems. It may also benefit those unable to produce enough melatonin (seek care from a healthcare professional if you fall into this category). Melatonin isn’t the best approach for mild sleep troubles and shouldn’t be the first option (or even the second or third).

Natural Sources of Melatonin

If you read our blog, The 5 Key Nutrients that Promote Quality Sleep, you likely already know there are many nutrients to promote restful sleep. There are also ways to increase your natural melatonin production, but other underlying issues may exist. What if the real problem is you’re suppressing your natural melatonin production without realizing it? For instance, one study found that 2 hours of exposure to blue light at night suppressed melatonin production (13). Or maybe you’re not getting enough sunlight during the day, resulting in insufficient production of serotonin. Serotonin plays a role in the production of melatonin (14). With that said, getting sunlight may help produce melatonin at night.

If you genuinely need additional melatonin, try finding it in natural sources, including (15,16):

  • Tart cherries
  • Corn
  • Asparagus
  • Grapes
  • Olives
  • Pomegranate
  • Broccoli
  • Tomatoes
  • Cucumber
  • Bananas
  • Ginger
  • Radishes
  • Rice
  • Rolled oats
  • Barley
  • Peanuts
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Walnuts
  • Flaxseed
  • Mustard seed
  • Red wine
  • Pistachios
  • Goji berries
  • Mushroom

Some don’t realize that the body uses tryptophan to help make melatonin (16). With that said, it’s important to find natural sources of tryptophan amino acid, which can be found in the following foods (17):

  • Lean chicken and turkey
  • Beef (skirt steak)
  • Lean pork chops
  • Firm tofu (if this is the route you go, I recommend using organic tofu)
  • Fish (salmon)
  • Boiled soybeans (I would recommend using organic soybeans)
  • Milk (I’d recommend raw milk)
  • Squash and pumpkin seeds
  • Oatmeal
  • Eggs

What About Some “Other” Research?

When deciding if melatonin is a singular solution, many people reference certain research claims that have been discussed online, which often have no sources. After endless searching through research databases, I could not find studies to support many of the claims–actually, quite the contrary.

Some recommendations are over 22x the recommended amount of melatonin. Suggesting upwards of 110 mg of melatonin daily for adults and 40 mg for children 8 to 16 years old.

One study used a 10 mg dosage to handle circadian rhythm disorders in people who were blind. The authors concluded that a physician should always supervise this high dosage (18).

Some studies have used a 20 mg dosage combined with cancer treatments like radiation and chemotherapy (19). This scenario falls under a particular instance category and should only be prescribed by and taken under the supervision of a doctor.

Other studies have used between 20 and 40 mg to prevent and treat clot-forming cells (thrombocytopenia) associated with cancer chemotherapy (20). A dose above 30 mg is substantial.

Remember, according to Sleep Advisor, 100 mg is a severe dosage that shouldn’t be used at all. With that in mind, it’s noteworthy that such a large dosage would likely result in many unwanted, potentially harmful effects (21).

I want to be clear, although there have been many claims online surrounding melatonin, especially for covid, science only partially backs these claims, and the protocols have never been studied (or sourced).

Contrarily, a regimen including vitamin D, zinc, and melatonin supplementation was studied and may prevent and treat RNA virus infections, such as COVID-19 and influenza (22). Keep in mind that this study does not specify the dosage used. Another study had similar findings but noted that additional experiments and clinical studies are required to confirm this speculation (23). I’ve encountered systematic reviews mentioning dosages 12 to 36x less than some online recommendations. They administered 3, 6, and 9mg of melatonin daily in three different trials. The treatment duration was 14 days in two randomized controlled trials and seven days in the other (24). That’s compared to the upward of 6 months recommended by online claims.

Taking this information and making your own decision based on facts is essential. Can melatonin be beneficial under certain circumstances? Absolutely! But it is not a universal answer to health. Without proper research and safety studies, melatonin shouldn’t be treated as a cure-all. In conclusion, ask yourself:

  1. Are these claims/protocols backed by research? 
  2. Are these claims/protocols sourced?
  3. Where did these dosage recommendations come from?
  4. Has anyone followed these protocols? If so, what happened to them? Did they have side effects or concerns?

If you’re looking for a covid protocol,this is my protocol, backed by science, which I used successfully in 2022.

Natural Sleep Aid Recommendations

If you’re struggling to get quality sleep, I recommend reading Earthley’s guide, The Secret to a Good Night’s Sleep. Additionally, there are several natural sleep aids that I recommend and use, such as:

  • Earthley’s Anxiety Calm Oil (Formula P) is a CBD oil formulated with 600 mg of pure-spectrum CBD in a hemp seed oil base for the full medicinal benefits of cannabis without the high.
  • Earthley’s Calming Essential Oil is designed to keep you calm. The sweetness of ylang ylang is combined with cedarwood and the freshness of sweet orange in this calming scent. This blend promotes a calm mood to reduce feelings of anxiety.
  • Earthley’s Calming Essential Oil Roller helps promote peace and calm and uplifts your mood! Allow aromatherapy to give you a little slice of serenity in a busy world. Apply to your wrists or pulse points and enjoy some relaxation.
  • Earthley’s Energy Plus is made with iron-rich herbs to increase energy naturally. This tincture supports a natural energy boost, endurance throughout the day, and restful sleep at night. Unlike synthetic vitamins, our herbal iron provides natural energy from the earth in amounts that your body can properly absorb.
  • Earthley’s Good Night Lotion combines nourishing butters with magnesium chloride to promote restful sleep. It even helps to relieve leg and muscle cramps, growing pains, headaches, occasional constipation, and more. Unlike sprays, our lotion isn’t itchy and won’t cause stomach upset like pills.
  • Earthley’s Oyster-Min Capsules combine heavy-metal-free oyster meat powder with mustard and celery seeds for a naturally mineral-rich combination with many health benefits, including promoting restful sleep! These capsules are a rich natural source of zinc, selenium, B12, copper, iron, and other trace minerals and amino acids. 
  • Earthley’s Relax and Unwind Tea helps ease anxiety with its all-natural calming properties. Relax and unwind with this anti-inflammatory and nutrient-dense tea blend. Great hot or iced.
  • Earthley’s Sleepy Time combines three powerful yet gentle herbs that promote restful sleep and peaceful nights. This herbal tincture is the perfect natural solution for the whole family.
  • Earthley’s Vitamin D Cream is rich in vitamins A, D, and some K2. Studies show that vitamin D is absorbed nearly eight times better topically than orally! This is a natural way to get the nourishment you need to help promote restful sleep.

What’s your go-to melatonin alternative?

This is the writings of:

Sarena-Rae Santos
Sarena-Rae Santos' journey to natural health began in 2019 when she swayed away from allopathic medicine after becoming wheelchair-bound due to the side effects of 20+ medications. Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS) and dizziness due to nystagmus were the sources of her many health complications. Sarena's symptoms diminished after adopting a healthier lifestyle surrounding whole foods and herbs, leaving her a fantastic quality of life and a passion for educating people.

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Hi, I’m Kate.  I love medical freedom, sharing natural remedies, developing real food recipes, and gentle parenting. My goal is to teach you how to live your life free from Big Pharma, Big Food, and Big Government by learning about herbs, cooking, and sustainable practices.

I’m the author of Natural Remedies for Kids and the owner and lead herbalist at EarthleyI hope you’ll join me on the journey to a free and healthy life!

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