For many pregnant moms looking for a natural sleeping aid, melatonin seems like an obvious choice.
Since our bodies naturally produce melatonin, it makes sense that melatonin could be used as a safe and effective supplement to get some extra sleep.
But why then do a large number of doctors still advise against taking melatonin during pregnancy? We’ll go through these reasons in a bit.
But first, let’s talk about melatonin.
What is Melatonin?
Melatonin is a naturally occurring hormone produced by the pineal gland in your brain, sometimes referred to as the “sleep hormone”. It plays a major role in regulating your sleep and wake cycles, telling your body when to feel sleepy and when to be alert.
Melatonin supplements are sold as an over the counter drug, and anyone can purchase it (which probably explains why millions of Americans supplement with melatonin on a nightly basis!)
Melatonin is widely regarded as safe for use, with mild side effects such as drowsiness, nausea, dizziness, and headaches. So why do doctors still recommend against using melatonin during pregnancy?
5 Reasons Doctors Advise Against Melatonin During Pregnancy
1. Melatonin is ineffective for sleep
While many people think that melatonin helps them fall asleep more quickly or stay asleep, UC Berkeley neuroscience and psychology professor Matthew Walker says studies have shown that’s not true. One relevant survey done on 1,767 adults in the US reported that melatonin supplements helped users fall asleep “only 7 minutes faster and sleep 8 minutes longer on average”.
So while melatonin can help you regulate the timing of your sleep by causing drowsiness (which can be useful for people traveling between timezones, or for people trying to regulate unusual working hours like night shifts), it does not actually help much in improving sleep itself.
2. Dosage is a problem with melatonin supplements
According to research conducted at MIT, the optimal dosage of melatonin for it to be effective is ~0.3mg. Yet many commercially available forms of melatonin contain roughly 10 times that amount!
A 2017 study in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine also found that the amount of melatonin in a supplement could vary as much as 478% more than what is listed on the packaging. That’s a lot of melatonin to be taking for a pregnant mom!
It may also surprise you to know that despite suffering from horrible sleep, your melatonin level actually rises significantly at 24 weeks of pregnancy and rises even more again after 32 weeks.
If you take a melatonin supplement during pregnancy (especially after 24 weeks where you already have higher levels of melatonin naturally), you are raising your melatonin to a level much higher than your body normally experiences. That’s definitely something to keep in mind.
3. Tolerance with long-term use
According to Richard Wurtman (the man who pioneered the use of melatonin as a sleeping aid in 1994), when melatonin receptors in the brain are exposed to too much of the hormone, they become unresponsive.
And with commercially available melatonin pills which typically contain 10 times the suggested effective amount (0.3mg), "after a few days [the supplement] stops working”.
4. Increased RLS symptoms
If you’re a mom who suffers from restless legs (RLS), it might be best to avoid melatonin altogether!
According to a study by researchers from the Sacre-Coeur Hospital in Montreal, melatonin inhibits the secretion of dopamine, which may increase RLS symptoms in the evening and night.
5. Lack of long term studies on melatonin use
Although melatonin is “natural” and is normally produced by the body, the amount delivered by commercial supplements far exceeds the quantities normally produced by the body. Needless to say, maintaining supernormal levels of any hormone over a long period of time may cause unknown side effects.
As of today, there has been little to no studies done on the long term effects of supplementary melatonin during pregnancy to recommend whether it is safe or not. That's why most doctors do not recommend melatonin supplements during pregnancy.
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The lotion helps to naturally improve sleep by activating the parasympathetic nervous system (basically turning off our fight-or-flight response) to help calm the body and mind. It also increases the neurotransmitter GABA in the brain. (GABA is the neurotransmitter responsible for quieting down nerve activity. It is the same neurotransmitter used by sleep drugs like Ambien; but with the sleepy lotion, this is done naturally!)
Many moms have also reported the lotion helps to ease pregnancy pains that keep them lying awake at night (e.g. hip and back pains, muscles cramps, restless legs).
Today, over 21,000 moms sleep better with the 8 Sheep Sleepy Body Lotion!
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