I asked myself a question the other day and was pretty shocked by the answer: “When was the last time I got a full night of sleep?”
I had to think back and realized it was October 2010, right before I found out I was pregnant with our third child. Since then, sleep has been a rare luxury I’m not often afforded. However, I’m optimistic that someday all of my children will sleep through the night and hopefully sleep will come my way.
According to the National Sleep Foundation, our body is designed to be awake when it is light out and to become drowsy and fall asleep when it is dark. This light and dark cycle is regulated in a part of the brain called the hypothalamus. Within the hypothalamus is a special center called the suprachiasmatic nucleus, (SCN), which helps to send signals to various parts of our brain to regulate body temperature, hormones and our sleep cycle.
One of the functions of the SCN is to release a hormone found in the pineal gland called melatonin. When it is light out, the body produces less melatonin and when it is dark it produces more. If you are having trouble sleeping, it seems that taking melatonin would be a good thing. However, before you reach for the over-the-counter hormone found at most health food stores, you should check with your doctor and discuss frequency and dosage. It’s best to find out if there are any underlying issues surrounding your sleepless nights.
In addition, some studies have indicated that melatonin does very little for sleep in comparison to placebo pills when taken at the wrong time or in the wrong dose. In fact, melatonin can cause drowsiness and can throw off your body’s natural sleep cycle if taken carelessly.
With that said, there have also been promising studies done showing that melatonin can help a person suffering from jet lag. Also, melatonin appears to have a positive result with delayed sleep phase syndrome, which occurs mostly in adolescence. With this syndrome, the individual has a hard time falling asleep at a normal time. Instead they fall asleep late into the night or early in the morning.
Finally, melatonin has demonstrated its effectiveness in helping people fall asleep faster, which can be one of the most frustrating aspects of sleep issues. It's up to you and your doctor to determine if melatonin is right for you. I wish you all a good night's sleep.