Disclaimer: Information in this article is research-based. However, the information provided in this article should not be construed as personal medical advice or instruction. Please consult a physician for medical and dietary advice and treatment. Melatonin supplementation and insomnia related disorders should not be assumed or treated without the supervision by a medical professional. I put my body at risk for this experiment.
Will Melatonin Improve My Sleep?
My sister frequently travels internationally for work and swears by Melatonin to help her with her Jet Lag. To give you an idea of how much she travels, she ends up with a few free international first-class tickets each year with her airline points. After years of hearing about it from her, I decided it was time for me to give it a shot even-though I didn’t have any serious sleep issue, nor do I encounter jet lag that often.
My sister discovered some chocolate covered Melatonin, that isn’t sold in the States. She says that she takes about 5 mg whenever she flies east.
The last time I flew internationally, the engine on my plane blew up over the Atlantic and we ended up in Goose Bay Canada for about 18 hours. So I don’t travel internationally as often as my sister does.
The United States Food and Drug Administration classifies Melatonin as a dietary supplement, so you can pick it up just about anywhere without a prescription. As much as I love Amazon, I just couldn’t trust buying supplements over the internet, so I went to the store and got 250 little gummies that have 1.5 mg of synthetic Melatonin per gummy. My plan was to take one gummy, or half of the bottle’s recommended dose, each night when my daughter goes to sleep at 8pm. By 9pm I was to be in bed.
Whenever I embark on a sleep related experiment, I make sure to control as many things around me as I can. Unfortunately, one of the things that I can’t control is the fact that I sleep on a new mattress every two weeks. Why is this a big deal? Simply put, some mattresses don’t work well for me and I’ll wake up in pain and have trouble sleeping. Before we dig into my Melatonin Sleep Tests, let’s discuss what I have learned about it in the last six months.
What is Melatonin?
Melatonin is a hormone naturally produced in the body by the pineal gland that regulates our sleep patterns.
In animals, melatonin plays an important role in the regulation of sleep-wake cycles. Human infants’ melatonin levels become regular in about the third month after birth, with the highest levels measured between midnight and 8:00 am. Human melatonin production decreases as a person ages. Also, as children become teenagers, the nightly schedule of melatonin release is delayed, leading to later sleeping and waking times.
Melatonin is synthesized from Thanksgiving’s most famous essential amino acid: tryptophan (think about how sleepy you get after your third serving of Turkey)! In the least scientific way to think about the relationship between Melatonin and tryptophan: Your body can convert Tryptophan into Melatonin.
Can You Get Melatonin From Food?
Yes, Melatonin is found in many of the foods that we eat. From my perspective, I probably already get enough of it from my typical diet. I’m going to list the items that are rich in melatonin and in parentheses I’ll tell you how often I eat a serving of it in a typical week. I have a blend of a Mediterranean diet and American.
How much Melatonin is in the food that we eat? Source for ng/100g column
|Tart Cherries||1 Per Month||2,060|
|Bananas||3 Per Week||66|
|Broccoli||2 Per Week||27|
|Pomegranate||1 Per Month||21|
|Strawberries||1 Per Week||21|
|Oats||2 Per Week||79|
|Tomatoes||2 Per Week||54|
|Walnuts||1 Per Week||270|
|Asparagus||3 Per Week||77|
|Orange Juice||1 Per Week||743/Glass|
After I put this chart together and did a bit of math, I realized that the 1.5 mg of melatonin that I take is FAR more than I would expect to get from my diet. Here is how the math breaks down. Let’s say that I ate a full kilogram of tart cherries in one day. That would equate to 20,600 nanograms of melatonin, or 0.0206 mg. Ok, so if I can manage to eat roughly 73 kg of tart cherries in a day (more than my weight) then I can hit the same 1.5 mg that I am getting from a supplement.
Take a step back from the math for a bit, you can’t possibly eat enough melatonin to match the massive amounts that they sell to you in supplements. Of course, if you combine foods high in melatonin and eat more tryptophan you can probably get the results you are looking for. So, the question is, do I really need 1.5 mg of melatonin to sleep better? My conclusion is that 1.5 mg is probably more than I needed for this sleep experiment.
Are there side effects of Melatonin?
I was laughing when I started to write this section as it reminded me of every drug commercial that they have on TV now. The narrator will talk about a drug over B-Roll of people dancing or running through a field and the guy in the fastest possible way will say things that you could never understand. Side effects include:
• Drowsiness (Isn’t that the point?)
• Reduced Alertness
Now read that list as fast as possible and pretend that you are the narrator in a commercial.
More importantly and, possibly, why some countries sell Melatonin by prescription; it is believed that they can interact with certain medications, including the following:
• Contraceptive Drugs
• Diabetes Mediations
• Immune System Medications
So, this part is serious, if you are on any medications you should really consult with your doctor before you choose to take some Melatonin as a sleep aide.
Are melatonin supplements safe?
We discussed possible side effects, but the thing that worries me the most is that it is difficult to find in the EU without a prescription. My personal take on this issue is that since it isn’t a regulated drug you may not get the proper quality control for your product. So, I know that I wouldn’t buy it online, nor from a source that I don’t already have some level of trust.
Sleep Test Method
1.5 mg of Melatonin at 8 pm every night. The plan is to jump in bed at 9, as I’m sure you can imagine that planning on getting to bed at 9 is different from doing that every night. Use of 3 different sleep trackers to measure my sleep.
Sleep Test Results
I’m almost at the bottom of my bottle, so I’m guessing that I have been at this for around 200 days now. For a long-term experiment like this, I found that there were so many things to control for that it is impossible to yield results that say taking 1.5 mg of melatonin per night improved my sleep. During the last 7 months or so I have slept on probably 14 different mattresses different adjustable beds and different sleep positions. I have a 4-year-old daughter, so do you think that she could have woken me up at various times throughout the experiment?
How could I possibly control for moodiness, a Friday night out, or the hangover the next day? How about a movie that I want to finish, or another episode on Netflix that I just must binge?
The ideal person to test this on would be someone who is hospitalized, yet not on any drugs, manages to get outside for some exercise and sunlight, doesn’t have a TV, nor a cell phone, visitors come at a designated time, the lights go out at a certain time, it is quiet all night, he or she doesn’t drink anything before they go to bed, etc. You see where I am going? This test is nearly impossible to pull off actually.
With the full disclaimer that this experiment is impossible to properly control, let’s discuss my thoughts and “results”.
First, let’s discuss the sleep trackers. I have one on my phone, one that goes underneath the head of my mattress and one that doubles as a mattress topper (oh, it heats up too…). I am highly disappointed by all three of these sleep trackers. What I found was that on some nights one tracker would say that I slept for 7 hours, another would say 7.5, and another would say 8. This really wouldn’t be a problem as I could still measure my sleep relative to each device over the course of time, right? Unfortunately, no. What I found was that one device that said that I slept the least on day 1 would say that I slept the most on day 4, 7, 15, etc. There wasn’t one device that was on the high side every time, nor one on the low side every time. I basically concluded that all three of my sleep trackers were close to useless for this experiment.
I tried so hard to put little Romy to bed at 8 every night. I feel like I was fairly successful at that, but I certainly couldn’t control the days when she decided to climb into bed with us, or potty-training mishaps.
My favorite TV shows or Netflix binges? We have a TV in our bedroom, my husband would kill me if I demanded that we took it out. Clearly, this is a factor that impacts my sleep results.
What if I had an extra glass of wine after dinner? Did that make me groggy or happy to stay up longer? Seriously, I don’t know how to control for that. I do know that I’m certainly not going to give up wine.
Without being able to control for all the real-world things that occur, I can say that I think I slept a bit better by taking 1.5 mg of Melatonin every night. Could this just be placebo/impacted by all the other things surrounding me? Clearly. Am, I planning on finishing the bottle? Yes, although when it is complete, I’m going to take at least a month off to see if I get any withdrawal symptoms. Furthermore, I want to see if I genuinely want to purchase another bottle after being away from it for a month.
Where can I buy Melatonin?
It is available over the counter in the US and Canada. Australia and the UK require prescriptions for purchase. Personally, I grabbed mine at Costco for less than $20, but you won’t have any problem finding them at a local pharmacy.