Do you take melatonin at night? We’ll be the first to admit: anything that helps us fall asleep faster feels like pure magic… especially with to-do lists running through our heads the moment we hit the sheets. But the hormone melatonin? You should know it’s good for more than just sleep.
A little about melatonin
Melatonin is mostly made in the pineal gland, a small gland located in the brain. When your retina (part of the eye) detects darkness, your body gets the message to start making melatonin. As hormone production rises, you begin to feel calmer, drowsy, and ready to fall asleep.
With modern lifestyles and devices, many of us aren’t making enough melatonin naturally. We’re left with insomnia or have resorted to a melatonin supplement. Boosting your own melatonin levels starts with turning down the lights an hour or two before you want to catch some shut-eye. Other things that help: resist the urge to check your phone close to bedtime. And, sit at least five feet away from the television if you’re catching a nighttime TV show.
3 ways melatonin helps your body (besides sleep)
Even though it’s famous for its role in our sleep-wake cycles, melatonin is an antioxidant and plays a part in bone health, migraine prevention, and fertility.
Teeth and bone health
Look out, calcium. Melatonin also has a hand in building strong bones and teeth. In 2017, a study divided postmenopausal women into two groups. One group received a placebo. The others took a combination of melatonin, strontium, and vitamins K and D.
All of the study participants had osteopenia. (Osteopenia is a form of bone loss but is not as severe as osteoporosis.) The group treated with melatonin experienced a marked increase in bone density. In another study, melatonin helped speed up post-fracture bone formation when taken early in the healing process.
Among other things, fertility depends on the development of oocytes, or immature egg cells. Melatonin can be helpful due to its antioxidant properties. Because it helps scavenge damaging free radicals and reduces oxidative stress in the body, it could also help improve the quality of oocytes. A study that looked at follicular melatonin levels in 61 women found a positive correlation to in-vitro fertilization (IVF) outcomes.
But should you take melatonin once you’re pregnant? Research isn’t yet clear on whether or not melatonin supplements are safe for a developing fetus. Many dosages on the market are well above what the body makes naturally. So, if you’re experiencing prenatal insomnia, talk with your physician. He or she can help with lifestyle modifications or options that have already been studied for reproductive safety.
Even though there have been mixed results, some evidence points to melatonin being helpful for migraine sufferers.
Consider this study from January 2017: it included 196 patients from ages 18 to 65, with at least 4 days of migraine headaches monthly or a lifetime history of 3 or more migraines. The results showed melatonin was as effective as amitriptyline in reducing headache days per month and severity. (Amitriptyline is a tricyclic antidepressant medication that is sometimes used off-label for migraine prevention.) Along with working just as well as amitriptyline, melatonin users reported fewer negative side effects.
Ways to naturally boost melatonin
As we mentioned earlier, one of the best ways to help your body make melatonin is to turn off devices and lights around bed time. Also, some foods naturally contain melatonin and may be helpful: milk, flaxseeds, and raspberries. Options like red meat, fish, and eggs are also a good idea. They all have tryptophan, which is an amino acid your body needs to make melatonin.
Supplementing with melatonin
Melatonin is sold in grocery, drug, and health stores and online. But just because it’s available doesn’t mean all dosages are safe for everyone. Most adults can take up to 5 mg nightly. However, you should talk with a provider and start at the lowest dose available to see how you do.
For adults older than 50, small doses are best: .5 to 2 mg. As we age, melatonin may have more of an effect. Melatonin should be taken about an hour before bed and never during the day or before going somewhere.
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