When I began taking weight training seriously, there were days when I felt that I needed an extra boost of energy for my workouts. As the saying goes, “what goes up must come down”, and it was a nutritional supplement called melatonin that helped me relax and enjoy a great night’s sleep.
Melatonin is secreted by the pineal gland which is a pea-sized structure at the center of the brain. At night, melatonin is produced to help our bodies regulate our sleep-wake cycles. The amount of melatonin produced by our body seems to decrease as we get older. Scientists believe this may be why young people have fewer issues with sleeping than older people have. Tests are still under way so there is so much still to learn about melatonin and its effects on the human body.
Melatonin has many other benefits which include:
- Making you feel better
- Strengthening the immune system
- Reducing free radicals in the body
- A powerful antioxidant
- Immno-modulator in cancer
- Delaying sleep-phase disorders
- Combating jet lag
Why Would Someone Need Melatonin?
In my case, the energy supplements that I take when I am preparing for fitness shows may often leave me jittery and unable to fall to sleep. For other individuals, the situation may be for an entirely different reason. Many drugs have been implicated as causing insomnia. At times, it is difficult to know whether insomnia is due to a medication prescribed for an illness or to the underlying illness itself.
Drugs That May Cause Insomnia:
- Beta blockers
- Oral contraceptives
- Phenytoin (Dilantin)
- Protriptyline (Vivactil)
- Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs)
- Thyroid hormone
The hormone melatonin is known as the “all-natural nightcap” and it’s one of many different sleep aids. As our eyes register the fall of darkness, N-acetyl-5-methoxytryptamine, or melatonin, is created naturally by the body within the pineal gland of the brain. At dawn, the production of melatonin stops. It is heavily regulated by both day-night cycles and seasonal changes.
Recommended Dosage of Melatonin
The appropriate dose can vary widely from person to person. The most popular dosage comes in 1.5 mg and 3.0 mg tablets. You want to start off with a 1.5 mg tablet each night about 30 minutes before bedtime then work your way to larger doses if needed. Personally, I have found that 3.0 mg works fine for me but there are nights when I know that I have to be up in six hours and will take a 1.5 mg tablet. There is nothing worse than getting breakfast ready feeling like a zombie when you know you slept very well the night before. With melatonin, you should normally wake up very refreshed and full of energy. If you wake up feeling tired and sluggish then you should reduce your dosage until you wake up feeling refreshed and ready to take on the day. You shouldn’t have the hangover effect you may experience with over-the-counter medication or prescription sleeping pills.
Possible Side Effects
According to one report, 10% of users said the hormone did nothing for them and another 10% complained about side effects such as nightmares, headaches, morning grogginess, mild depression and low sex drive. In past studies, researchers have given people up to 600 to 3,000 times the usual dosage without causing any toxicity.
As an occasional user of melatonin over the past 8 years, I must say that it’s the intense dreams that you want to be aware of. I know that not every one’s dreams are affected but if you want my input, melatonin can enhance your dreams to where you would never know you are actually dreaming. This can be very frightening!
Who Should Avoid It?
- Women who are pregnant or nursing (since no one knows how excessive exposure to the hormone might affect a fetus or infant).
- People with severe allergies or autoimmune diseases (melatonin could exacerbate such conditions by stimulating the immune system) .
- People with immune-system cancers such as lymphoma or leukemia (for the same reason).
- Healthy children (they already produce it in abundance).
Women trying to conceive should also think twice about taking melatonin since high doses can act as a contraceptive. As with any substance introduced into your body, if you have a medical condition you should always consult with your physician before taking any medication or supplement.
Your Sex Life and Lifespan
There is no evidence to support claims that melatonin will improve your sex life. However, a 1995 rodent study suggests that taking small amounts of melatonin on a regular basis may prevent the age-related decline in testosterone levels, allowing men to be more sexually active in their later years.
As for your lifespan, in tests on both rats and mice, melatonin caused a significant increase in their lifespan (around 20%). If melatonin does allow you to live longer and healthier it could do so for a variety of reasons. Melatonin can help to:
- Reduce free radical damage
- Stimulate an aging immune system
- Protect the cardiovascular system
- Preserve a youthful circadian rhythm
- Stimulate the production of growth hormone
Melatonin and Bodybuilders
Bodybuilders and fitness enthusiasts may find themselves in a state of being overtrained. A common side effect of overtraining includes the inability to sleep well at night. Bodybuilders use melatonin to help them achieve their full 8 hours of quality sleep. This precious time is when your muscles are recovering from hard workouts and growing!
I can count the number of times that I have tried a few different types of sleeping pills and melatonin is one that I feel safe taking. Waking up feeling well rested is never an issue I’ve had but I only take what I need.
In the fast paced society we live in, we may overlook what we are doing to our minds and bodies. Having to ingest a sleep aid every night for weeks on end is something you will want to make sure you actually need. Be aware of your lifestyle and think about what is causing you to be unable to sleep at night. If the answer is not clear, and you feel that you need help, then contact your doctor and find a solution that helps you.