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Melatonin is a hormone produced by the pineal gland in the brain, then released into the bloodstream. Quantities naturally increase as the sun goes down and decrease during daytime hours and exposure to bright light, thus regulating the sleep-wake cycle (aka circadian rhythm).
When it’s produced within our bodies, it goes by the name endogenous melatonin; however, some also choose to supplement their natural melatonin levels as a way to effectively adjust and regulate their body's internal clock. In this form, it’s known as exogenous melatonin.
This over-the-counter supplement can be found in several forms, including melatonin tablets/capsules, pills, gummies, and liquids. Between 0.2 and 5mg is considered a safe starting dose of melatonin for adults. (1)
Although everyone metabolizes ingredients at different rates, generally speaking, levels begin to rise in your bloodstream about 30 minutes after taking the supplement—but not all forms of melatonin last for the same amount of time. It depends on whether your supplement contains standard or extended-release (or both). Here’s what you need to know.
Immediate-release melatonin has been shown to support the initiation of sleep, meaning it lasts for around one hour during stage 1 (also known as N1). During this phase of non-rem sleep, your brain activity is beginning to slow down. Although muscle twitches can occur, muscles are mostly relaxing as your brain releases theta and alpha waves. Think of this as the “portal” into sleep. It’s the lightest phase, which is why if you awaken out of it, it won’t be too jarring. You may not even feel like you were sleeping. Certain people may experience what’s called “myoclonic jerks” during this time, which is when you feel suddenly started (almost like you were about to fall). Sound familiar? It’s far more common than you think.
Unlike standard melatonin, MicroActive® extended-release melatonin (or time-release melatonin) has been shown in dissolution studies to have a seven-hour, 100% sustained release to help you stay asleep. This form of melatonin works across non-rem stage 2 and 3, as well as REM sleep. Here’s what happens in each of these stages, as well as why they’re important:
- Stage 2 (N2): Core body temperature drops and muscles are fully relaxed, supports memory consolidation
- Stage 3 (N3): Deep sleep, also known as delta sleep or short-wave sleep (SWS), supports the functioning and restoration of your immune system
- Stage 4 (REM): Brain waves are far more active although muscles remain fully relaxed, prime time for dreams to occur, benefits cognitive functions (memory consolidation, creativity, and learning)
READ MORE: A Guide To The 4 Stages Of Sleep (REM + NREM)
Proper’s melatonin supplements contain both standard and time-released melatonin to not only help you fall asleep faster, but stay asleep longer.
To help you fall asleep faster + stay asleep longer.
Because supplements are less strictly regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), it's important to do your research to ensure it contains what it says it does and is not contaminated with heavy metals or pesticides. Here's what to look for when selecting a melatonin supplement for short-term or longer-term use:
- Third-party tested for purity and verified free of heavy metals, microbes, and pesticides
- U.S. manufactured and produced in an FDA-approved, "Good Manufacturing Practices"-compliant facility
- Botanical extracts standardized to guarantee consistent purity, potency, and efficacy
- Free of artificial colors or binders
- Vegan, gluten/dairy/sugar-free, non-GMO
READ MORE: The FDA Regulates Supplement Facts Differently Than Nutrition Facts. Here’s Why.
Possible side effects of melatonin
A small percentage of melatonin users have been found to experience next-day drowsiness, sleepiness, headaches, and dizziness; however, this is not a common side effect and there is no evidence of a risk for serious, clinically significant adverse events (AEs). (2) As a precautionary measure, it’s recommended that users not drive or use machinery for four to five hours after taking melatonin.
Those with epilepsy, as well as those taking high blood pressure and blood thinner medications or antidepressants, should consult their healthcare provider prior as they need to be on medical supervision while taking melatonin supplements. (3)
Is it safe to take melatonin when pregnant?
Unfortunately, there’s a lack of research on the safety of melatonin for pregnant/breastfeeding women. We recommend consulting your doctor for more information and personalized medical advice.
Can my child take melatonin?
While studies have shown that melatonin use in children is safe, it is unclear regarding long-term use. (4) Please consult your child's healthcare provider for pediatric questions and recommendations around the use of melatonin (or any sleep supplement/dietary supplement) for long-term or short-term use.
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