Melatonin is a supplement that has become increasingly popular as an over-the-counter sleep aid. It’s sold as a nutritional supplement in the U.S., says the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) and is not regulated by the FDA. There are other reasons why people take melatonin, too. Is this a supplement that you can take if you have diabetes?
What is melatonin?
According to the NIH’s National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH), “Melatonin is a hormone that your brain produces in response to darkness.” Melatonin help with the timing of circadian rhythms (your 24-hour internal clock) and with sleep. If you are exposed to light at night, melatonin production is blocked.
What are reasons for taking melatonin?
Melatonin, sold as a supplement, can help with some conditions, including jet lag, delayed sleep-wake phase disorder, sleep disorders in children, and anxiety before and after surgery, for example.
Melatonin production declines with age, so older adults who have difficulty falling or staying asleep may be interested in taking a melatonin supplement.
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Problems with sleeping
Getting enough sleep is an issue for a large percentage of adults in the U.S., says the CDC. In fact, about 35% of people in the U.S. report sleeping an average of less than seven hours per night. In addition, between 10% and 30% of adults struggle with chronic insomnia; insomnia is also a significant issue in older adults, affecting between 30% and 48% of older adults.
Issues with sleep affect people with diabetes, too. Insufficient sleep is one of the most common sleep disturbances affecting people with type 2 diabetes, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK). Plus, sleep issues can cause insulin resistance, which, in turn, can increase the risk for developing type 2 diabetes.
If you have type 2 diabetes, not getting enough sleep or not getting enough quality sleep can make it harder to manage your diabetes; you also have a higher risk of getting heart disease and obesity if you aren’t sleeping well.
How melatonin might help
There are many ways to help improve the duration and quality of your sleep. But if sleep evades you, you might be thinking about trying melatonin.
Melatonin is a hormone made by the pineal gland in the brain. As the days wears on and darkness appears, the pineal gland starts to secrete melatonin to help the body prepare for sleep. Light, on the other hand, stops the production of melatonin. So, melatonin doesn’t necessarily induce sleep, but it can help regulate the sleep-wake cycle, and transition you to sleep.
Taking melatonin supplements for sleep issues
While most people produce enough melatonin, some people could benefit from taking melatonin as a dietary supplement for short-term use. Taking melatonin may help you fall asleep more quickly and decrease the likelihood of waking up during the night.
If jet lag is an issue for you due to traveling across time zones, research suggests that melatonin supplements can help for reducing jet lag symptoms and improving sleep. It’s also thought that melatonin might help shift workers, although results from two 2014 research reviews on whether melatonin supplements might help were inconclusive.
Sleep issues aside, some research indicates that melatonin supplements may improve fasting blood glucose level, hemoglobin A1C levels (a measure of long-term blood glucose control), and insulin resistance. Melatonin supplements show promise for other issues related to diabetes, according to a 2020 review published in the journal Diabetology & Metabolic Syndrome. The authors mention that melatonin lowers blood pressure, improves glycemic control, and may help prevent or treat complications of diabetes, including cardiomyopathy (damage to the structure and function of the heart), retinopathy (eye disease), wound healing, end-stage renal (kidney) disease, and neuropathy (nerve damage). However, they state that human clinical trials are needed to demonstrate and support melatonin’s use for preventing and treating diabetes complications.
Safety of melatonin supplements
Short-term use of melatonin supplements appears to be safe, says the NCCIH, but there isn’t enough information to support its long-term use, especially at doses higher than what the body normally produces.
If you’re thinking about taking a melatonin supplement, the NCCIH states that it’s important to keep in mind the following:
- Melatonin might interact with some medicines, and if you take blood thinners or have epilepsy, you should be under medical supervision.
- There’s no research on the safety of using melatonin in pregnant or breastfeeding women.
- Melatonin shouldn’t be used in people with dementia; also, melatonin use in older people can cause daytime drowsiness.
- It may not be appropriate to take if you have an autoimmune disorder or depression.
- Melatonin in the U.S. is not regulated as strictly as an over-the-counter or prescription medicine.
- Some melatonin supplements may not contain what’s listed on the label.
Melatonin can interact with other medicines, too, such as blood pressure medicine, diabetes medicines, contraceptives, and immunosuppressants. Always talk with your provider before taking melatonin to ensure that it’s safe for you.
Be aware of possible side effects from taking melatonin supplements. These include:
- A “hangover-like” feeling the next day
Melatonin supplements may also worsen insomnia and feelings of depression, especially if not taken correctly.
Boosting melatonin levels naturally
If you’re uncertain about taking melatonin or your health care provider has advised against doing so, don’t despair. There are ways to make the most of your body’s own production of melatonin to improve sleep:
- Stop using devices, such as your smartphone, tablet, or computer, two hours before bedtime, when melatonin levels start to rise.
- Dim your lights as nighttime approaches.
- Avoid turning on lights if you wake up during the night.
- Get exposure to daylight during the morning and afternoon hours.
- Include vegetables, fruits, and whole grains in your eating plan, as these foods naturally contain melatonin.