Melatonin vs Sleeping Pills: Don’t Pick Wrong

When it comes to melatonin vs synthetic sleeping pills, I choose melatonin every time!

Sleep is essential for your health. Getting the right amount of sleep helps you both physically and mentally. Unfortunately, sleep evades a lot of people, and we all want to turn to some kind of sleep aid for relief. I’ve tried many synthetic sleeping pills and I’ve tried many natural sleeping aids.

For me, the synthetic pills can provide a tired feeling, but the side effects are too heavy. On the flip side, I’ve had much better luck with natural sleeping aids, like melatonin or even valerian root.

According to UCSF Health, “studies show that melatonin is not only good for helping you sleep, but it also has been found, in laboratory studies using rats and mice, to be an antioxidant, which can help slow the aging process.”

How Does Melatonin Work?

Melatonin is naturally produced by the body. When there is an absence of light, the pineal gland secretes natural melatonin, which may make you sleepy. It doesn’t make you sleep, but as the level of melatonin increases during the evening, it promotes sleep. To say that it makes you fall asleep is a bit misleading.

Since melatonin isn’t regulated by the FDA, there’s concern about its use. Manufacturers aren’t held to the same standard as products with FDA oversight. That being said, every time I’ve taken melatonin it’s helped or “promoted” me to fall asleep. The best way for me to describe the effects of melatonin is to say that it makes me feel like it’s really late at night. Meaning if I take one around 8-9, within an hour it makes me feel like it’s 2-3 am in the morning.

How Do Sleeping Pills Work?

For me, sleeping pills don’t work well. Sleeping pills are designed for the brain, to make you feel drowsy. And I can’t say that I didn’t feel drowsy when I took them, but the ability to actually fall asleep didn’t work for me. I definitely felt tired, but I was simultaneously restless.

During my time of researching sleeping pills it sounds like I’m not the only one to get less than optimal benefits from sleeping pills. Most sleep experts will agree that while sleeping pills may help promote sleep, they might not promote “good sleep.”

The quality and quantity of your sleep directly impact your physical as well as mental health, and how well you feel throughout the day.

When you are struggling to meet the demands of a busy lifestyle, or are just finding it tough to have a good night’s sleep, getting less sleep always seems like a great idea! However, it is imperative to note that even minimal sleep deprivation can take a significant toll on your cognitive function, mood, energy as well as your ability to handle stress. In the long term, chronic sleep deprivation will ultimately wreak havoc on your physical and mental health.

Below are a number of compelling reasons why sleep is so important for your health and overall well-being.

How Can Sleep Help You

Improved athletic performance:

Studies1 suggest that along with being an essential part of the adaptive and recovery process between exercise sessions, sleep quality in athletes is associated with improved performance and competitive success. 

According to John Underwood (Director of American Athletic Institute) “the majority of muscle repair and growth occurs during sleep when hormones are released. Without adequate sleep, muscle gain is greatly diminished.”

What’s more, improved sleep can potentially reduce an athlete’s risk of both injury and illness and this not only optimizes health, but equally enhances performance through increased participation.

According to the National Sleep Foundation, the recommended amount of sleep for adults range between 7 and 9 hours per night, and athletes may need as many as ten hours. And the reason why sleep is important is that an athlete’s body heals when he/she is asleep. Other potential benefits associated with sleep include improved mental functioning, better coordination, improved energy, and performance intensity. 

It lowers your risk of weight gain:

There is a strong link between sleep and weight loss. Individuals with short sleep duration tend to weigh relatively more compared to those who get a sufficient amount of sleep. Simply put, reduced sleep duration is a major risk factor for obesity.

The impact of sleep on weight gain can be mediated by several factors, including motivation to work out and hormones among others. So, if you are seeking to shed some extra weight, getting enough sleep is absolutely crucial.

It is also important to note that the lack of or inadequate sleep results in fluctuations in appetite hormones, leading to poor appetite regulation. It leads to higher levels of ghrelin, a hormone that stimulates appetite, and decreased levels of leptin, a hormone responsible for suppressing appetite. This simply implies that sleep-deprived people have a much greater appetite hence will tend to eat more calories. And taking fewer calories during the day can also help keep your weight in check.

Sleep boosts your muscle memory:

You have probably realized that when you are tired and exhausted, it is pretty hard to remember things! And when this occurs, your brain is simply telling you that your body isn’t getting adequate sleep.

Studies1 have proven that a clear, alert brain allows you to focus, learn to be creative, and retain muscle patterns or movements. Getting the right amount of sleep puts you in the right state of mind to store information as you go about your daily activities. What’s more, a great night’s sleep allows your brain to effortlessly process, retrieve and retain information. We all know proper technique and form are critical in the gym and in athletics in general. Proper sleep helps retain that muscle memory, and can help keep you injury-free.

It strengthens your immune system:

If you need another reason to get enough sleep, then this should be it. Sleep boosts your immune system. Individuals who don’t get quality sleep or enough of it are increasingly more likely to fall sick after being exposed to a virus, such as the common cold. What’s more, the amount of sleep you get affects how fast you recover if you do fall sick. 

When you are sleeping, your immune system releases proteins known as cytokines, some of which enhances sleep. Cytokines are also needed during an infection or inflammation, or when you are stressed. Sleep deprivation leads to a decrease in the production of these vital proteins. What’s more, the production of infection-fighting cells and antibodies is significantly reduced when you don’t get enough sleep and this significantly weakens your immune system. Simply put, your body needs adequate rest to fend off infectious diseases.

Over the past few years, both sleep quantity and quality has significantly declined. Many people all over the globe regularly get poor sleep, and this can have negative effects on your brain function, exercise performance, hormones, and overall wellbeing. If you want to optimize your health, getting a good night’s sleep is imperative. Below are evidence-based tips to sleep better at night:

Tips to help you sleep 

  • Don’t consume caffeine late during the day: Caffeine is loved by nearly 90% of the U.S population thanks to its numerous potential benefits. Only a small amount can boost focus, energy, mental alertness, and sports performance. Unfortunately, when consumed late in the day, caffeine naturally stimulates your nervous system, preventing your body from relaxing at night. If you have to take a cup of coffee late in the evening, opt for decaffeinated coffee.
  • Stick to a strict sleep schedule: The recommended amount of sleep for a healthy adult is seven to nine hours. Set aside no more than nine hours for sleep. Go to bed and wake up at the same time each day. Being consistent with your sleep pattern reinforces your body’s sleep-wake cycle.
  • Create a restful sleep environment: It is strongly believed that the bedroom environment together with its setup is key factor in getting a great night’s sleep. The bedroom environment includes temperature, external lights, noise as well as furniture design. To create a restful bedroom environment, you should minimize external noise, light, and artificial lighting from devices such as alarm clocks. Consider using earplugs, a fan, room-darkening shades, or any other device that might help create a conducive environment that suits your needs. You also need to ensure your bed is as comfortable, clean, and enjoyable as possible.
  • Take a relaxing shower or bath: Studies2 have proven that a relaxing shower or bath can potentially boost overall sleep quality, allowing you to sleep relatively faster and better.
  • Exercise regularly, but not right before bed: Exercise is one of the proven ways to boost your sleep and overall health. Exercise enhances all aspects of sleep and has consistently been used to minimize insomnia symptoms. However, it is important to note that exercising too late in the day can aggravate your sleep problems.
  • Regulate your fluid intake: Drink sufficient fluid before you retire to bed to ensure you don’t wake up thirsty, but not so much that and so close to bedtime that you’ll now have to make numerous trips to the bathroom! Nocturia is a medical term that describes excessive urination during the night. It significantly impacts sleep quality as well as daytime energy.

Wrapping up Melatonin vs Sleeping Pills

We should be spending about 1/3 of our lives asleep. If you’re getting anything less than this, you’re doing yourself a disservice. 

Even with our current technology we still don’t completely know why we sleep. What we do know is, we can’t think as clearly or process information as well without it. Plus, inadequate sleep causes poor coordination, the function of our muscles, and muscle movement patterns. Make sure you’re getting the recommend 7-9 hours of sleep per night and reap the rewards. For me, the best way to get that essential 7-9 hours of sleep is to use melatonin and not sleeping pills. During the week, I’m pretty good, but a Sunday night melatonin gets me to bed quickly.

Sources

1. van Dongen, E.V., et al., Physical Exercise Performed Four Hours after Learning Improves Memory Retention and Increases Hippocampal Pattern Similarity during Retrieval. Current Biology, 2016. 26(13): 

2. Haghayehy S. et al. Sleep Med Rev. 2019;doi:10.1016 

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