Wellness·3 min read

Why Melatonin Isn’t the Silver Bullet for Sleep That You Think It Is

Woman Asleep in Bed
Design: theSkimm | Photo: iStock
Mar 23, 2022

Whether you find yourself scrolling through TikTok in bed till you fall asleep or responding to the group chats because the tea is too hot to wait, one thing’s for sure: these behaviors make it harder to practice good sleep hygiene. Aka habits that put you in the best position to get quality shuteye. And getting enough (seven hours or more) quality sleep each night is crucial because that’s when your mind and body recharge

To find out more about sleep hygiene, and how sleep aids, like melatonin, affect the body, we talked to Dr. Julia Kogan, a health psychologist and sleep coach. She broke down how to make sure you’re setting yourself up for a full night’s rest on your own. And how good sleep hygiene and melatonin affect the body. 

What is poor sleep hygiene and how does it affect your quality of sleep?

Poor sleep hygiene refers to habits (taking multiple naps or drinking too much caffeine) that disrupt your sleep or keep you awake. There are a few things that can contribute to poor sleep hygiene, including 

  • Late-night scrolling. The blue light that our electronics emit (cell phones, computers, etc.) can signal to the brain that it's time to turn up rather than come down. Not to mention all the things you can do on your phone that can distract you from falling asleep. 

  • Alcohol. Studies have found that you should stop drinking alcohol at least four hours before bed to avoid a rough night of sleep. “Although alcohol can make us drowsy, it prevents the body from going into deep sleep states that are required to feel rested and refreshed,” Dr. Kogan said.

  • Anxiety. Research has shown that it’s common for people to experience anxiety at night. And that can lead to staying awake for longer. 

  • Sleep apnea. A sleep disorder where your breathing continuously stops and starts. Symptoms typically include snoring or gasping for air when asleep.

  • Health issues. Like asthma or chronic pain (see: fibromyalgia). And it’s a two-way street: certain health conditions can cause poor sleep, and poor sleep can then raise the risk of developing other health conditions (think: heart disease, diabetes, depression). 

How do sleep aids/melatonin affect your sleep hygiene?

More people are turning to sleep aids, such as melatonin supplements, to help achieve a full night’s rest. In fact, OTC melatonin use more than doubled from 2008 to 2018, a study concluded. But some experts say sleep aids should be a last resort — only taken when other attempts to improve your sleep hygiene don’t work.

Short-term use of melatonin has been found to be generally safe, but still shouldn’t serve as an everyday sleep solution, Kogan says. Because the evidence is lacking on the safety of long-term melatonin use. Speak to your doctor about whether melatonin supplements are OK to use because some groups might face higher risks (see: people taking certain medications, older people, and possibly people who are pregnant or breastfeeding).  

Thing to know: You may not be able to trust a label alone. Dr. Kogan pointed to studies that showed certain melatonin supplements could contain over 400% the amount of melatonin listed on the bottle.

How can you practice good sleep hygiene and skip the supplements?

To create an optimal snooze environment, Dr. Kogan suggests… 

  • Using your bed only for sleep and sex. Sorry, no Zooming with your head against the headboard during those late afternoon meetings. Only using your bed for these two things will teach your brain that the bed’s not meant for anything else.  

  • Create a buffer zone before bed, to calm the body and mind. Think: listening to music, reading a book, meditating.

  • Avoid heavy drinking especially before bedtime. Because you don’t want disrupted sleep. 

And if you need more tips, our guide on the sleep stages can help.

theSkimm

Getting enough sleep (and the good kind) is critical to making sure you feel your best — mentally and physically. That means cutting out the habits that are keeping you up at night, practicing better sleep hygiene, and considering sleep aids, like melatonin, only when all other options haven’t worked. 

Live Smarter

Sign up for the Daily Skimm email newsletter. Delivered to your inbox every morning and prepares you for your day in minutes.

fbtwitteremail