What is melatonin?

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 levels as a way to effectively adjust and regulate their body's internal clock.

Does melatonin help you sleep?

As is the case with all natural sleep supplements, there’s not a one-size-fits-all answer to this question. Your sleep and overall health must be evaluated holistically to help you understand and solve the issue(s) at hand.

That being said, there is research supporting the efficacy of melatonin. One meta-analysis, (1) which compared melatonin against placebo in improving sleep parameters for patients with primary sleep disorders, showed that the supplement reduced sleep latency (the amount of time it takes to fall asleep) by 7.06 minutes and increased total sleep time by 8.25 minutes. Also promising was the fact that trials with a longer duration and higher doses of melatonin demonstrated greater effects on decreasing sleep latency and increasing total sleep time.

Who melatonin is best for

Melatonin is best for those suffering from circadian rhythm sleep disorders such as:

  • Jet lag
    Officially known as "Rapid Time Zone Change Syndrome," jet lag messes with your sleep times and wake times as you cross into new time zones, especially when traveling east.

  • Shift Work Disorder
    Shift workers with inconsistent schedules have been found to get upwards of four fewer hours of sleep than the average person due to disrupted melatonin production. (2)

  • Delayed Sleep Phase Disorder (DSPS)
    Night owls who fall asleep late but have a hard time getting up in the morning (common with teens and young adults).

  • Advanced Sleep Phase Disorder
    Early birds whose body clock causes them to fall asleep and wake up on the early side (common with older adults).

  • Irregular Sleep-Wake Rhythm Disorder
    When someone's sleep patterns are flipped upside down due to one-too-many naps over a 24-hour period.

READ MORE: Guide To Circadian Rhythms

Recommended dose of melatonin

Melatonin is commonly consumed between 1 (low dose) and 5mg by healthy adults. (3)

Side effects of melatonin

A small percentage of melatonin users have been found to experience daytime drowsiness, sleepiness, headaches, and dizziness; however, there is no evidence of a risk for serious, clinically significant adverse events (AEs). (4) As a precautionary measure, it’s recommended that users not drive or use machinery for four to five hours after taking melatonin.

What is magnesium?

Magnesium is a mineral that our bodies need for optimal blood pressure, immunity, bone health, circulation, and muscle functioning. (5) Recent data also suggests magnesium improves glycemic response in subjects with Type 2 diabetes. (6) Natural sources of magnesium include leafy greens, whole grains, beans/legumes, and nuts/seeds.

Does magnesium help you sleep?

Because magnesium affects the cellular timekeeping of our circadian rhythms, low levels of this essential mineral have been associated with poor quality sleep as well as insomnia. (7) Additionally, magnesium deficiency has been studied as a risk factor for depression, which in turn increases the risk of insomnia. (8)

In a double-blind randomized clinical trial, (9) 46 elderly participants with insomnia either received a 500 mg of magnesium or a placebo for 8 weeks. Results showed that compared to the placebo group, the study group experienced statistically significant increases in sleep time, sleep efficiency, and melatonin levels. They also experienced decreases in sleep onset latency (amount of time it takes to fall asleep) and concentration of serum cortisol (a stress hormone).

One potential hypothesis for how magnesium supports sleep is its relationship with GABA, an inhibitory neurotransmitter produced naturally in the brain that blocks certain brain signals and decreases activity in the central nervous system. It appears that magnesium increases GABA’s availability (10) while GABA works to reduce excitability and produce a calming effect that may support a reduction in anxiety and sleeplessness.

Who magnesium is best for

While melatonin helps regulate your sleep patterns and internal body clock, magnesium targets different processes. It’s particularly suitable for those who need help calming the body and mind. By helping reduce stress and anxiety, it may help you get better quality, longer sleep.

The following groups are particularly susceptible to magnesium deficiency: (11 - 12)

  • Older adults
  • Those with diabetes/insulin resistance
  • Those with Vitamin D deficiency
  • Those taking antibiotics, antacids, or hypertension medication for health conditions
  • Those with digestive conditions (Crohn’s disease or celiac)
  • Those who drink heavily

Recommended dose of magnesium

The recommended dietary allowances (RDAs) for magnesium intake are as follows: (13)

  • Males 19 - 30 years old: 400mg
  • Males 31 - 51+ years old: 420mg
  • Females 19 - 30 years old: 310mg
  • Females 31 - 51+ years old: 320mg

Side effects of magnesium supplements

In rare cases, research shows that supplemental magnesium (especially in high doses) can cause nausea, cramps, and diarrhea. (10) If you experience any of these symptoms, it’s best to consult a healthcare professional.

If you decide to take a dietary supplement to increase your magnesium levels or melatonin levels for more restful sleep, 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:

  • Third-party tested for purity and verified free of heavy metals, microbes, and pesticides
  • U.S. manufactured and produced in a Food & Drug Administration (FDA)-approved, "Good Manufacturing Practices"-compliant facility
  • If the supplement has other ingredients or botanicals, ensure they are standardized to guarantee consistent purity, potency, and efficacy
  • Free of artificial colors or binders
  • Non-GMO and, if it’s important to you, vegan, gluten/dairy/sugar-free

READ MORE: The FDA Regulates Supplement Facts Differently Than Nutrition Facts. Here’s Why.

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