Melatonin has become the fashionable, go-to natural sleep supplement. But when you listen to conversations about this powerful supplement, you will notice a couple things: one, everyone has a melatonin story, and two, there are at least one who will relate that although it worked (at either 3 or 5 grams) to get them to fall asleep easier, they experienced weird, vivid dreams. Some people are OK with this, and others who naturally have vivid, surreal dreams would rather find something else.
Regarding those anecdotes describing psychedelic-like dreaming, one source explained that “researchers speculate that melatonin contributes to the quality and quantity of REM sleep, when most dreams occur. Taking extra melatonin, then, could kick our REM cycle into hyperdrive, giving us longer, richer, more memorable dreams.”
Melatonin is now ubiquitous – even Walmart sells melatonin beverages, such as Neuro Sleep Tangerine Dream. Another melatonin beverage contender is Som Sleep. And if anything is labeled “nighttime,” or “PM,” sure enough, it likely contains melatonin.
Earlier, in the mid/late 1990s melatonin burst onto the center of the supplement stage. One study even questioned if it was a hypnotic because it seemed to rather easily lull study participants into sleep. Now, according to a melatonin source, it is called “the Swiss army knife” of hormones.
Melatonin as you likely know is a hormone. Specifically, according to one source, melatonin (5-methoxy-N-acetyltryptamine) is an indolamine synthesized by the pineal gland during the night, contributes to synchronization of body rhythms with the environmental light/dark cycle.
There is a relationship between normal circadian rhythm and other physiological functions, which is a strong reason why melatonin is often recommended to ensure circadian rhythm balance. Authors of one review about melatonin point out, “the circadian organization of other physiological functions depend also on the melatonin signal, for instance immune, antioxidant defenses, hemostasis and glucose regulation.” They add that when melatonin secretion is disturbed the result increases risk of disease and increasing of existing symptom severity.
Authors of another review explained that “Clinically meaningful effects of melatonin have been demonstrated in placebo-controlled trials in humans, particularly in disorders associated with diminished or misaligned melatonin rhythms, for example, circadian rhythm-related sleep disorders, jet lag and shift work.”
This is great news if you are a shift worker or travel frequently through several time zones.
But you certainly can obtain better sleep benefit from melatonin if you work during the days and don’t fly frequently. In one study, 27 healthy college students reported that they experienced significant improvements in sleep quality components, such as quicker time to fall asleep and deeper sleep when taking 6 mg melatonin over those taking placebo.
Cartilage is the abundant connective tissue that plays a variety of roles in the human body, including joint support and protection, load bearing of the spinal discs, and joint lubrication. “The maintenance of cartilage homeostasis is therefore crucial,” write the authors of one review of melatonin and its potential use in cartilage protection. In recent years, research on cartilage homeostasis and melatonin has been increasing, and melatonin has gradually been used” in protocols that support cartilage-related conditions.
Another review focused on evidence showing how melatonin and its metabolites act as broad-spectrum antioxidants that regulate specific molecular pathways of inflammation and thus in progressive joint degradation.
Beyond sleep, melatonin is gaining critical mass as a support nutraceutical for other areas of wellness.
A condition called mild cognitive impairment is not uncommon in aging adults, and there are numerous healthy lifestyle factors, diet and supplements that are often recommended by practitioners to enhance and protect cognitive function. Melatonin is beginning to be recommended more frequently as it has been shown to be protective.
In one study of individuals with mild cognitive impairment (MCI), researchers investigated if and how melatonin induced effects on the thickness of the lamina cribrosa, a part of the eye, thinning of which is known to be associated with cognitive impairment. In this study, the lamina cribrosa thickness (LCT) of participants with MCI decreased significantly compared with that of those in the control group. They concluded that “dietary melatonin therapy could provide an effective” supplement tool for individuals concerned about maintaining cognitive acuity.
There may be a relationship between melatonin status and mood/anxiety disorders.
One team of researchers explored the potential association between melatonin supplementation and bouts of anxiety in 108 young adult individuals with anxiety disorder. Daytime saliva melatonin levels and inflammatory markers were analyzed and the researchers found that in these individuals, daytime saliva levels of melatonin were related to several inflammatory markers. “This observation likely reflects the bidirectional relationship between melatonin production and the immune system. These findings may have relevance for the understanding of psychiatric disorders and other conditions associated with low-grade inflammation,” they write.
The winter blahs, which are increasingly linked to the shift in circadian rhythm with dramatically less daylight, may be attenuated through melatonin supplementation. A small pilot study of 10 individuals with low mood during the winter took either low doses of melatonin in the afternoon or placebo. The melatonin supplementation significantly reduced depression ratings compared to controls.
Research has investigated the role of supplemental melatonin and vision/eye support, which is relevant for young adults who spend so much time gazing at and scrutinizing flat screens. Oh, and melatonin is actually synthesized in the retina. According to researchers, “The retinal biosynthesis of melatonin and the mechanisms involved in the regulation of this process have been extensively studied. Circadian clocks located in the photoreceptors and retinal neurons regulate melatonin synthesis in the eye.”
Another study looked at how melatonin supplementation for 6 months by 55 individuals affected the potential development of macular degeneration. They concluded that the daily use of 3 mg melatonin protected the retina.
According to one source, other potential areas of beneficial use for melatonin include upper digestion support, and increasing levels of human growth hormone in active men, enabling quicker gains in muscle mass and strength.
If you are using melatonin for sleep, you’re in good company! It is preferred by most people who don’t have true insomnia but who want to reset their body clocks gently but effectively, and also in times of stress to ensure a better quality of sleep. And if you have funky dreams – use those as creative inspiration! After all – thousands of books, songs, paintings and other art are rooted in the nocturnal films produced by your mind.