Melatonin Madness…

Dr. Shawn Talbott (Ph.D., CNS, LDN, FACSM, FACN, FAIS) has gone from triathlon struggler to gut-brain guru! With a Ph.D. in Nutritional Biochemistry, he's on a mission to boost everyday human performance through the power of natural solutions and the gut-brain axis.

There was a good article in the New York Times recently about how so many people are trying to get off melatonin, but are having a hard time kicking their dependence.

It has been known for at least 20 years that melatonin is not very effective for improving sleep quality, yet millions of people still use the hormone every night – including millions of teens and kids. Since melatonin is a hormone (either extracted from pigs or synthesized), concerns exist for dependence, depression, and interference with puberty.

In the U.S., melatonin use has increased 5-fold since 1999, and sky-rocketed during the pandemic – but now that people are trying to return to their “normal” lives, many are struggling with melatonin dependence.

Two recent meta-analyses (one in 1,700 participants and another in ~44k people across 150+ trials) found that melatonin supplements can reduce the time it takes to fall asleep by 7 minutes and increase total sleep time by 8 minutes. In kids, the effect of melatonin is a little better – improving time to fall asleep by 11am in and total time asleep by 15min, but that may not be a great trade-off for potential future problems with dependency and puberty?

Melatonin is actually involved in much more than just our sleep cycles – including regulation of our entire circadian rhythm, energy metabolism, body weight, insulin sensitivity, and glucose tolerance (which is why poor sleep is associated with diabetes and obesity – and why getting better sleep can help with weight loss).

Side effects of melatonin commonly include headaches, irritability, dizziness, dry mouth, and night sweats, with the most common problem being the “melatonin hangover” grogginess experienced by many users the day after using melatonin (caused because your body has not fully metabolized the entire melatonin dose – so your brain still thinks it is night).

Most scientific sleep organizations (American Academy of Sleep Medicine, UK’s National Institute for Health Care Excellence, and the European Sleep Research Society) discourage the regular use of melatonin because of its low efficacy – and based on the “user experiences” of melatonin dependency outlined in the NYT article (and all over TikTok and Reddit), it seems prudent to look for other non-drug natural approaches to improve sleep.

I speak and write a lot about Sleep Quality – there is a whole chapter about sleep in my most recent Mental Fitness book and it is a core section in our Certified Mental Wellness Coach program – and there are LOTS of natural (non-melatonin) approaches for improving sleep quality.

For example, if you have trouble falling asleep, specific strains of probiotic bacteria can increase GABA production to help you fall asleep faster. If you have trouble staying asleep, then having a small balanced carb/protein snack before bed can help you stay asleep with fewer nightly awakenings. If you fall asleep ok and stay asleep ok, but wake up not feeling rested, then your problem might be poor sleep quality – which can be improved with corn grass to increase time spent in Deep sleep (where your body recovers and rebuilds) and REM sleep (where your brain recuperates and “cleans” itself).

Our research group has conducted several studies of corn grass that have shown improvements in sleep quality, mental wellness, weight loss, and sports performance – and corn grass supplements can now be found in capsules, chocolates, and (soon) gummies.

Getting high quality sleep every night should really be considered a SuperPower – but one that is very much in-reach for all of us with a range of effective natural solutions.

About the Author

Exercise physiologist (MS, UMass Amherst) and Nutritional Biochemist (PhD, Rutgers) who studies how lifestyle influences our biochemistry, psychology and behavior - which kind of makes me a "Psycho-Nutritionist"?!?!

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    Solve the 3 Main Sleep Problems
    and Improve Your Sleep Quality
    without Drugs or Synthetic Melatonin