Disruption in normal sleep patterns, regardless of the cause, can lead to increased fatigue and tiredness. Our sleep wake cycle is an internal clock known as the circadian rhythm.
Our circadian rhythm controls many things including changes in core body temperature, melatonin secretion, cortisol secretion as well as our appetite. The circadian rhythm is also responsible for our wakefulness during the day. Travel to a different time zones disrupts this rhythm and is commonly referred to as jet lag.
The circadian drive to fall asleep promotes the initiation of sleep. Once you have fallen asleep, this sleep drive rapidly diminishes. A functional circadian rhythm decreases alertness during the night, particularly in the latter half of the night, helping to fall asleep as well as staying asleep until normal wake up time.
To function optimally within a 24 hour day, the circadian rhythm must adjust each day via time cues. The most potent stimulus is the environmental dark-light cycle.
Disruption of the circadian rhythm will affect the desired sleep schedule often resulting in significant symptoms of insomnia and excessive daytime sleepiness, as well as impaired physical, neurologic, emotional, and social functioning.
All circadian rhythm disorders are due to abnormalities in the sleep-wake pattern and the specific patterns vary according to the underlying disorder.
Melatonin. What does it do?
This is an over the counter supplement, hence it is not FDA approved and not very well regulated.
Melatonin is an agonist (stimulates) the melatonin receptors. By doing this it plays a major role facilitating sleep onset by decreasing the typical evening arousal. This helps to reinforce circadian rhythm and allows you to have restful sleep.
But does it work as a supplement?
Taking melatonin supplements may be useful for those with delayed onset of sleep. Beside the over the counter supplement there is also a prescription melatonin called Circadin, but it is not available in the United States.
Although there is little evidence to support the use of sleep aid supplements in the treatment of insomnia, the best evidence is for use of melatonin, especially for jet lag disorder. This supplement is generally regarded as safe. The main benefits attributed to this supplement is helping with the onset of sleep.
Melatonin supplements come in different forms, including immediate and extended-release tablets, dissolvable tablets, skin patch, and liquids. It is hard to say which formulation is most effective.
The typical melatonin dose is in the 1 to 5 mg range.
Once ingested, melatonin is rapidly absorbed and is broken down eliminated with a half life of about one hour.
Known side effects are generally mild and include vivid dreams and nightmares, dizziness, daytime sleepiness, headache, short-term feelings of depression, irritability, and stomach cramps. Although generally regarded as a safe supplement, the safety of long term melatonin use has not been well studied.
So is it worth taking the supplement?
It depends, many take it with good results and it appears this supplement is generally safe. It is probably best used for jet lag but those with chronic disruption in sleep (such as shift workers) may benefit as well.
Ultimately taking any supplement is a personal choice and in this case, it is most effective when combined with good sleep habits. It is always best to treat these supplements like medications and seek the advice of your medical doctor prior to taking them.
Please remember that medical information provided by us must be considered an educational service only. This blog should not be relied upon as medical judgement and does not replace your physician’s independent judgement. Please seek the advice of your physician or healthcare provider.