There have been several articles coming through my inbox lately claiming that melatonin supplements will help to protect against COVID-19. Some claim that melatonin is 10 times more powerful than vitamin C—a large claim!
The headline that really caught my attention was published in The Atlantic. Entitled The Mysterious Link Between COVID-19 and Sleep, it suggests that “the real issue at play may not be melatonin at all, but the function it most famously controls: sleep.”
Put another way, melatonin itself will not protect you from COVID-19. But melatonin may help to induce sleep…and deep sleep can definitely strengthen the immune system.
The Atlantic article reported on a study from the Cleveland Clinic in which melatonin was associated with a 30% reduced likelihood of testing positive for COVID-19. While it’s refreshing to see more studies validating the role of sleep and strong immunity, even the Cleveland Clinic researchers say these findings are preliminary and advise that people don’t turn to melatonin supplements.
As The Atlantic article points out, “Like any substance capable of slowing the central nervous system, melatonin is not a trifling addition to the body’s chemistry.”
The brain’s tiny pineal gland produces the hormone melatonin, and it gradually releases into your bloodstream as you prepare for sleep. As melatonin levels rise in the evening, it signals your brain to promote sleep. If your body doesn’t produce enough, you may have problems falling asleep or staying asleep.
Although it may be tempting to turn to a supplement, the better approach is to implement strategies to improve your sleep, which in turn will boost melatonin, and create a positive cycle for your health.
Melatonin and Sleep: How Melatonin Impacts Immunity
Balancing your body’s natural melatonin can reduce the stress that can come from inflammation and illness. While asleep, breathing and muscle activity slows. This provides more energy for the immune system to perform critical tasks and upkeep. Deep sleep contributes to both innate and adaptive immunity--which is the body’s foundation for fighting foreign diseases.
Better sleep enhances your immune system in several ways, including:
- Cell regeneration
- Increased blood flow to muscles
- A stronger immune system
- Energy renewal
- Development, growth, and repair of tissues and bones
While medical professionals say that melatonin supplements are generally safe when taken appropriately, I generally don’t recommend their long-term use. They’re appropriate in some short-term cases. For example, melatonin supplements can help people who are recovering from jet lag or inconsistent sleep patterns.
In those cases, if you do want to try a melatonin supplement to “reset” your sleep and get back into a good routine, aim for a short-term approach.
According to Johns Hopkins sleep expert Luis F. Buenaver, Ph.D., CBSM, nightly melatonin is safe for most people to take for one to two months. “After that, stop and see how your sleep is. Be sure you’re also relaxing before bed, keeping the lights low, and sleeping in a cool, dark, comfortable bedroom for optimal results,” said Buenaver.
“Be sure you’re also relaxing before bed, keeping the lights low, and sleeping in a cool, dark, comfortable bedroom for optimal results.” -- Luis F. Buenaver, Ph.D., CBSM, Johns Hopkins sleep expert
Another problem with supplements is that it’s possible to overdo them. Too much melatonin can overstimulate the immune system, leading to inflammation and worsening existing disease. A 2017 study from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) tested 31 different melatonin supplements bought from grocery stores and pharmacies and found that the amount of melatonin in the product didn’t match what was listed on the product label. Also, 26% of the supplements contained serotonin, a hormone that can have harmful effects even at relatively low levels.
3 Easy Hacks to Boosting Natural Melatonin
But how to boost natural melatonin for better sleep, you ask? By now, you’re probably starting to see that you don’t need to spend money on supplements. While the best sleep position for you and overall sleep preferences may vary, here are a few easy hacks to get better sleep and boost natural melatonin, too!
They say it takes two weeks to embrace a new habit, but here’s a routine you can accomplish even sooner: just sleep cooler. If you already follow me on Instagram (@thesleepgeek) then you likely see that most of the questions my followers ask are either why they sleep hot at night or how to stop night sweats.
The key to getting deep sleep -- and boosting your body’s level of natural melatonin -- is to keep your sleep environment cool. The optimal temperature for sleep is said to be somewhere between 15-20°C.
As I recently shared in a HelloGiggles article about how to create a better sleep cycle, the temperature of your bedroom plays a big role in how well you’ll be able to sleep.
A strict bedtime is a great start but you really need to adjust your sleep temperature in conjunction with other tips I share to increase the quality of your sleep!
While everyone has a slightly different optimal sleep temperature, we recommend setting your thermostat somewhere in that range until you find the temperature that works best for you.
Likewise, how much deep sleep is needed is a personal matter. But science shows that achieving deep sleep is easiest when your core temperature is lowered. Another trick to take your sleep cooling to the next level is to add something like a cooling mattress pad or a temperature-controlled mattress pad or weighted blanket like chiliBLANKET, chiliPAD, or the app-controlled OOLER sleep system.
Create a day-and-night routine.
Know when to lighten up and when to “go dark”. It’s best to get as much exposure to bright light as possible during the day -- in the evening, it’s the other way around, so keep your sleep environment as dark as possible.
Aim for some sunshine and exercise in the daytime. Scientists say that getting as little as 10 minutes a day of continuous sun exposure can lower your evening cortisol levels and allow you to wind down and get quality sleep.
In contrast, overexposure to lights from electronics or TVs can throw off your circadian rhythm by tricking your mind into thinking that it’s still daytime, causing you to be more alert, thus making it harder to fall asleep and get good rest at night. Turn off the tech at least an hour before bedtime, since these light-emitting devices actually suppress the body’s natural release of melatonin.
Stick to that new routine.
As someone who has experienced the anxiety of insomnia and battled through my own weary sleepless nights, I understand how overwhelming it can seem to imagine a world of effortlessly restorative deep sleep. But it’s absolutely possible!
Mastering the art of getting really amazing deep sleep is easier than you think -- no supplements needed! What other strategies can help to boost natural melatonin?
In addition to sleeping cooler and creating a day-and-night routine, experiment with new flavors as part of your new routine. Consider adding the following healthy foods to your grocery list:
- Foods high in tryptophan: turkey, eggs, cheese, pineapples, salmon, nuts and seeds, seaweed, turnip, sunflower seeds.
- Foods high in Vitamin C: oranges, red peppers, kale, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, strawberries, grapefruit, guava, kiwi, green peppers.
Just like conditioning your body to do anything else, the key is sticking to a solid routine that works for you. Remember this: a good day starts with the night before and you can boost your natural melatonin with my tips above. Creating and sticking to better sleep habits is an investment you make every night for the health and well-being of your future self.