The hormone melatonin controls the day-night rhythm and is formed in the body from the nerve messenger serotonin. The intake of melatonin is used for the short-term treatment of a primary sleep disorder characterised by poor sleep quality (insomnia). In recent years, melatonin has made a name for itself as a miracle drug, especially in the USA, and is also available as a dietary supplement in the form of capsules or drops. But does melatonin really help you fall asleep? We clarify all the important questions.
How is melatonin produced?
How much of the hormone is released depends on the eye. If daylight falls on the retina, melatonin production is inhibited. In darkness, on the other hand, the release is stimulated.
The hormone released can dock onto certain binding sites, such as the blood vessels in the brain and some cells of the immune system, and thus influences various bodily processes. Darkness tells the body that it is now time to rest and signals, for example, that energy consumption must be reduced and blood pressure lowered. In addition, the hormone lowers body temperature, boosts the immune system, influences the release of sex hormones as well as learning and memory. During the day, melatonin levels are about three to twelve times lower than at night.
Why do we have a melatonin deficiency?
Low melatonin levels in the blood can have various causes, such as long periods of daylight in summer, serotonin deficiency, taking certain medications or caffeinated drinks such as coffee and energy drinks, alcohol and tobacco consumption, intensive sport in the evening and constant stress. In addition, age influences the formation of the hormone. The older you get, the lower the melatonin production.
In contrast, too much melatonin in the blood can be caused by long periods of darkness, such as in winter, certain antidepressants or liver dysfunction. Taking melatonin for winter depression can have a negative effect for this reason.
Is melatonin dangerous?
In the short term - i.e. over a maximum period of two to three months - melatonin has rather few side effects. However, long-term use of melatonin is controversial, as it is not yet clear what effect the long-term hormone supply has on the body. Regardless of this, melatonin tablets can lead to disturbances in the wake-sleep rhythm if the dose is too high or taken at the wrong time. If you take the medicine in the middle of the night, for example, you may still feel the sleep-promoting effect the following morning.
For safety reasons, melatonin should not be taken during pregnancy and breastfeeding or if you have severe allergies.
Can melatonin be taken daily?
The recommended dose of melatonin is 2 mg once a day. It should be taken one to two hours before bedtime and after the last meal. It is equally important that it is always taken at the same time in order to re-establish the day-night rhythm. Melatonin should not be taken together with alcohol, as this reduces the effect of melatonin on sleep.
Can I buy melatonin in a pharmacy?
Food supplements with the active ingredient melatonin are now freely available in pharmacies in various doses. However, supplements that exceed the recommended dose of 2 mg should not be taken without first consulting a doctor.
Does melatonin help you fall asleep?
The effect of melatonin on sleep quality has not yet been adequately researched. In about half of those who take melatonin, it has no effect. In younger people in particular, most of the active ingredient is broken down again directly by the liver. All in all, melatonin is not very suitable as a sleep aid and is not generally recommended for the treatment of sleep disorders.
Tip: If you suffer from insomnia, you should make sure that you sleep in a darkened room so that melatonin can be released for as long as possible.
However, the fact that melatonin has an antioxidant effect in the body is considered scientifically proven, in contrast to the thesis that it helps you fall asleep: The hormone intercepts free radicals that damage the cells and destroys them.
If you have any further questions about melatonin or suffer from sleep disorders, please do not hesitate to contact our pharmacists at Saint Charles Pharmacy Vienna, Berlin or your doctor.