Episode 66



Melatonin is natural, therefore it must be safe and effective, so I should take it, right?

In this episode, I break down the available evidence on the most widely-used supplement for sleep - melatonin - including whether or not you are actually getting what you think you’re getting, and even if you are, whether that makes any difference for your sleep, so you can decide for yourself if it’s really worth getting in on the melatonin craze.

The hormone of darkness, melatonin, is a clock hormone. When the lights go out, detected by a pathway from the retina in the back of the eye to the pineal gland in the brain, the brake is released and melatonin is let out into the circulation to tell the rest of the tissue in your body that it’s lights out time. This keeps all the cells synchronized to the master clock in the brain - a coordinated body-wide circadian rhythm. 

But too many people fall prey to the naturalistic fallacy - to assume that because melatonin is “natural,” that therefore it is good and desirable. So taking supplements of melatonin must, therefore, also be good and desirable. But this thinking misses the mark on two important points

Chances are, you are getting a significantly different amount than you think you’re getting - either much lower, or dramatically higher than what’s listed on the label. 

And consistency within any given brand is also entirely lacking - lot to lot variability is also too high to stomach. 

Not only that, just under 1/3rd of melatonin sold over the counter is contaminated with substances the supplement manufacturer did not feel you had a right to know about, with more than a quarter of all OTC melatonin contaminated with a serotonin precursor that could mix with prescription serotonin drugs the wrong way and potentially become fatal. 

Prescription-only melatonin agonists have limited practical uses, and small effects even under those circumstances. And melatonin can be quite helpful when the circadian clock is out of order and needs some help getting reset and synchronized. 

But for the vast majority, a clock hormone will not help insomnia. And the evidence bears this out, demonstrating no improvement in the time it takes to fall asleep, or improving sleep across the night. 

First, buying something calling itself melatonin by no means indicates that you are getting something that is melatonin. 

Second, even if you can find one of the minority of manufacturers who’s not violating the FDA’s good manufacturing practices, what are the chances you will actually benefit from taking melatonin for your sleep? 

So save yourself the humiliation. 

Don’t get duped by deceptive claims, by deceptive labeling of dose or concentration, by deceptive ingredients lists that fail to account for significant impurities and contaminants. 

And don’t get fooled into thinking that melatonin as a sleep aid is doing anything to aid your sleep. 


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