Sleep Disturbance: How Melatonin Plays a Part

Melatonin is a hormone.  This hormone plays an enormous role in your immune system and has dramatic effects on sleep.  Our bodies have evolved based on the exposure of natural light.  You wake as the sun rises, and you fall sleepy when it goes down.  When the sun goes down, your melatonin production goes up.  Melatonin has an inverse relationship with cortisol, which we discuss a lot when talking about adrenal fatigue.  Basically, it means that as cortisol rises first thing in the morning, melatonin is low and you feel awake.  At night, your cortisol should be at it’s lowest and melatonin at its highest making you sleepy.  When this relationship is faulty you may feel sleepy in the middle of the day or wide awake in the middle of the night.  Considering how important sleep is for hormone production, cellular repair, and inflammation regulation, this can be a HUGE issue!

As many of you know, I just got back from a trip to Peru, and there was a similarity to my time spent in Africa: light.  In Africa, I had no electricity.  That meant when the sun went down, the only light available was by fire or candlelight.  As you return to The States, you have unlimited availability to light via electricity.  This means that after returning home from work we watch TV, get on our computers, play on our phones, and so on.  We do this without even noticing it!  I left for Peru and over my time there, I realized my day was dictated by the sun.  You go home for bed when it gets dark, and when you get home, a fire is your source of light.  I slept great, woke up to the sunrise, and I never felt miserable waking up to an alarm when I wanted to keep sleeping.  I was in the same time zone as in the US, so that wasn’t an issue, but if I experienced jet lag, I would look to melatonin to reset these circadian rhythms.

When I test patients with hormone issues, fatigue, and issues sleeping, I often test their melatonin levels.  This tells me if they are producing enough at night when it should be high and they should be sleepy.  If it is low, I often have them supplement with melatonin for a short time while making the following lifestyle changes:

  • No TV an hour before bed
  • No reading in bed
  • Dim lights an hour before bed
  • No computer work after dark
  • Do not use your phone an hour before bed
  • Turn your phone on airplane mode if used as an alarm
  • No TV in the bedroom

If someone is working on their overall lifestyle changes, melatonin is not needed as a crutch after a short period.  Since it is a hormone, I do not advise supplementing with it long-term because you need your body to have signals appropriate to create melatonin on its own.  If you continually supplement, then you will still likely have poor cortisol patterns and still won’t have a natural production of enough melatonin.

Uses for melatonin:

  • jet lag
  • sleep disturbance
  • adrenal fatigue

I typically recommend somewhere around 1g at night.  If you take too much, sometimes people will experience nightmares or wake up very groggy.  Kids can also benefit from melatonin, but their dosage should be between 300-500mg depending on weight.  Like I said, this should be SHORT TERM.  If you find it is helping sleep patterns but they come right back when you discontinue supplementing, that is a clear indication that you haven’t corrected the underlying issues causing abnormal hormone production.

*You can find high grade melatonin in the online store, Fullscript.  However, I recommend getting a cortisol/hormone panel done prior to self diagnosing.  These tests are done at home and run around $200.