Why does melatonin work as a sleep aid?

There are many reasons why we can't fall asleep at night: Above all, a stressful everyday life, professional or private worries make it difficult to fall asleep and prevent a restful sleep. As a result, we wake up in the morning feeling exhausted, tired and suffering from attention and concentration problems. One way to help us fall asleep is the sleep hormone melatonin, which is available as a dietary supplement in various dosage forms. For example, as a sleep spray.

Why does melatonin work as a sleep aid?

Melatonin Einschlafhilfe

Melatonin is a hormone that the body, or more precisely the pineal gland in the diencephalon, makes as night falls and produces more and more throughout the evening and night. The most melatonin is produced between 2 and 4 a.m., after which melatonin levels decrease again. Because melatonin also reduces body temperature and blood pressure, lowers energy expenditure and makes people tired, it helps regulate the sleep-wake cycle and is therefore also known as the sleep hormone.

Individuals who produce too little melatonin and therefore suffer from insomnia or problems falling asleep can benefit from externally supplied melatonin. This is especially true for people of advanced age, as melatonin production decreases with age. In theform of capsules, tablets, spray or tea, the hormone reaches the bloodstream as a dietary supplement via the intestines or mucous membranes, where it can exert its effect.

Studies confirm that melatonin is suitable as a sleep aid and can shorten the time it takes to fall asleep [1] and in some cases also extend the total sleep time and improve sleep quality [2]. How strong the effects are, however, varies greatly from person to person - as does the subjective perception of whether the effects represent a significant improvement. Given these large individual differences, the only thing left to do is to simply try taking over-the-counter remedies containing melatonin for yourself.

Can I give my child melatonin (as a sleep aid)?

Melatonin Einschlafhilfe Kinder

Most children have phases in which they have difficulty falling asleep and/or staying asleep. However, melatonin as a sleep aid is only suitable for them in exceptional cases. It only makes sense for children who suffer from certain severe developmental disorders such as ADHD, an autism spectrum disorder, or neurological disorders that are associated with persistent insomnia and cannot be improved by other treatment methods [3]. Studies provided preliminary evidence that these children benefit from melatonin as a sleep aid and support for sleeping through the night, but more research is needed for robust conclusions [4]. However, the previous study results refer to children with certain diseases and cannot be easily transferred to healthy children.

Conclusion on melatonin as a sleep aid

The hormone melatonin, which is produced in the pineal gland in the brain, is significantly involved in the regulation of the sleep-wake rhythm. It makes us tired and lowers body temperature and blood pressure. With increasing age or in the case of an existing deficiency, externally supplied melatonin can serve as an aid to falling asleep, although the effect can vary greatly from person to person.

Sources

[1] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28648359/
[2] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23691095/
[3] https://www.dgsm.de/fileadmin/dgsm/netzwerke/paediatrie/Melatonin_Kindesalter_2018.pdf
[4] https://www.test.de/medikamente/Schlafstoerungen-Kinder-Melatonin-5596541-0/