One of the best sellers in every supplements store is melatonin. Also known as the “sleep hormone”, various physical and medical conditions can influence the natural cycle of melatonin production and release. Melatonin circulation can be affected by many different factors, including disruption of the body’s internal clock (jet-lag, for example), stress and anxiety levels which lower the ability to produce melatonin, hormonal changes (such as the ones associated with pregnancy, menopause and even type 2 diabetes) and even aging.
In most cases, those factors aren’t standalone. They appear together, creating a multifactorial situation resulting in significant damage to the body’s ability to control the melatonin cycle.
The effectiveness of melatonin supplements seems to prove itself, as regulated consumption shows positive results by shortening the time it takes to fall asleep, and increasing the chances of continuous night’s sleep. By these effects, melatonin is one of the most common treatments for sleep disorders. On top of the beneficial effect, while taken under prescription and proper medical guidance, melatonin supplements are considered to be pretty safe. The side effects tend to be minimal, and might include dizziness, headaches, and drowsiness, especially when consumed in parallel to other medications. It’s also worth mentioning that melatonin is not safe to use during pregnancy or while breastfeeding.
Although melatonin supplements appear to be a relevant solution for sleep disorders, it’s important that we take the bigger picture into consideration. The lack of intrinsic melatonin production and secretion is likely a symptom of other underlying causes. Therefore the solution that’s based on extrinsic supply of melatonin treats only the symptoms. While symptom management is extremely valuable (improving sleep quality, elongating the duration of sleep, etc.), the cause should not be overlooked.
Diagnosis & Treatment
It’s important that we do not neglect the wish to improve the physiological melatonin cycle. Melatonin supplement should remain a solution for appropriate cases, and not become a competitor of the pineal gland.
The diagnosis of lack of melatonin differs between different people. When a 94 year old woman asks her doctor about melatonin as a solution for non-continuous sleep, that’s one thing. Yet when a 40 year old man experiences the need of melatonin supplementation, other questions should be asked, and the medical questioning should be comprehensive and detailed. The hormonal homeostasis is one of the most explored fields regarding the human body, and some of it still remains a puzzle. Therefore the investigation for further, deeper causes might reveal important information and even save lives.