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  • Writer's pictureThought Matters

Undertanding Melatonin supplements- Quoted in Midday on 6th May, 2024

Updated: Jul 8

Melatonin is a hormone that’s naturally produced by our brain as a response to darkness. It regularises our sleep-wake cycle — higher levels of melatonin help us fall asleep, while lower levels keep us awake. When the circadian rhythm is interrupted because of reasons such as increased light exposure after sunset, our use of gadgets or jet lag, consuming supplemental melatonin can help to regularise our cycle by inducing sleep,” explains Dr Nahid Dave, a psychiatrist at Thought Matters.

She further explains that melatonin is prescribed only to initiate sleep and not to improve its quality: “Melatonin supplements have a half-life of 30 to 40 minutes, just long enough for you to fall asleep. Some sustained release tablets can help to sustain your sleep by mimicking your brain’s natural activity.”

“In case of sleeplessness caused by mental health concerns, the lack of sleep or of good-quality sleep is only the tip of the iceberg. The sleep disorder is usually secondary to something else, such as anxiety, depression, panic or lifestyle disorders. It is very important to treat the primary, underlying cause instead of directly reaching for melatonin when you’re struggling to fall asleep,” advises Dr Dave.

She adds that melatonin is typically not prescribed for more than 60 days or two months, except in very specific cases such as dementia. While sustained use doesn’t cause physical addiction, there is a possibility of consumers developing a psychological dependence.

Further, many bed-time drinks contain significant amounts of sugar to enhance their taste, which could be counterproductive as far as the quality of sleep is concerned.

“Consuming sugary drinks before bedtime can mess up your glucose metabolism and lead to abnormal weight gain,” warns Dr Dave.

Before reaching for a melatonin supplement, both experts recommend following practices to ensure good sleep hygiene:

>> Follow a fixed bed-time

>> Your bed should only be used for sleeping, not scrolling

>> Avoid using gadgets 30 to 40 minutes before your bedtime

>> Don’t nap during the day or limit your daytime naps to 30 minutes

>> No tea or coffee for at least six hours before you sleep

>> Exercise three to four times a week

Another piece of advice before taking a melatonin supplement is to try maintaining good sleep hygiene for at least 20 to 25 days. Also, differentiate between whether you are having trouble falling asleep, or if you are struggling with waking up multiple times in the night and not waking up refreshed. In case of the latter, seek the advice of a mental health professional.

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