Can first responders take melatonin long term?
If you’re on this page, your sleep sucks. Like most first responders, our shift work and the nature of our business does not allow our circadian rhythm to give us good sleep. This leaves a lot of first responders turning to sleep aides like melatonin. But, is it healthy to take this stuff long term? Is it better than the alternatives of taking sleep meds or just not sleeping well forever?
What is melatonin?
The sleep hormone produced by your brain
Melatonin is produced in our brain by the pineal gland. It’s what helps you relax before bed and ensures you sleep well throughout the night. The pineal gland gets its cue to start secreting melatonin when it gets dark out and when it gets light out, it will stop producing melatonin.
This is a significant part in how you develop your circadian rhythm. You’re supposed to be tired at night and awake during the day according to light and darkness.
Benefits of melatonin
Better sleep is the obvious one
So, obviously people would take melatonin for better sleep. But, better sleep can also bring about a decrease in depression, decrease in fat gain, plus a decreased chance for cancer and heart disease.
It’s not just about sleep, it’s about what the sleep will do for you long-term. Overall health increases when your quality of sleep increases. It also puts you in a better mood throughout the day which obviously has a positive impact on your job performance, your motivation, your relationships with others and your outlook on life.
Melatonin is not going to work for everyone
While melatonin works best in those who need to correct their circadian rhythm, your sleep issues can be a combination of things including:
- Anxiety before sleep: thinking/stressing about stuff you have to do
- High cortisol levels, like from chronic stress
- Imbalance of other hormones like serotonin
Effects long-term melatonin use
Some doctors will disagree with each other on this one
Since melatonin is a hormone produced by a gland in your brain, taking it over the counter may affect how that pineal gland works. The short-term studies show that there are no significant side effects. Things like daytime drowsiness and headache are reported but only in a very small percentage of people.
The suggested duration for melatonin use us 2 months. After that you should stop and see if your sleep stays improved without it.
But, if you’re taking it consistently and it’s not working or even making your sleep worse you should stop and talk with your doctor.
Why you should mix CBD & melatonin
If your mind starts to race when your head hits the pillow and you start to think about all the stuff you need to do or you get anxiety anticipating something, all the melatonin in the world can’t help you.
If you have a serotonin imbalance, or high cortisol levels, research has shown that melatonin may not be effective either.
CBD has some research behind it to show that it can help with both of those things. CBD naturally reduces excess cortisol, balances serotonin and because of those two things, can reduce anxiety.
There is no danger in mixing CBD with serotonin either. They work on two very different parts of the brain and body and neither of them will “knock you out”. Although, melatonin can start to make you feel sleepy.
A small percentage of people report daytime sleepiness or grogginess the next day, but it’s a very small amount.
Here’s how they work together:
- CBD reduces anxiety, giving you the feeling of relaxation before bed (not tiredness)
- Melatonin also gives you the feeling of relaxation and can make you feel tired in preparation for sleep
- CBD lasts about 6 hours and raises levels of serotonin (your happy hormone) which is important for quality sleep
- Melatonin lasts between 4-8 hours and taking a pill will increase the natural amount of melatonin secreted from your pineal gland
4 Tips for getting better sleep Naturally
- Avoid screens and blue light an hour before bed, you’re particularly vulnerable between 11pm-4am
- Eat foods rich in melatonin before bed like Pistachios and tart cherry juice. You don’t need a lot, and it goes a long way
- Make sure your room is cool. Studies show the ideal temperature to sleep at is 68 degrees F
- Mediate or journal before bed. If you have a lot going on, write down what you want to do the next day instead of thinking about it. Tell yourself to check it tomorrow and you’ll feel better about going to sleep knowing you’ve “Scheduled” your tasks or your concerns. This is surprisingly helpful, don’t skip it!
Melatonin for first responders
You need to make sure you’ve checked all the boxes on your “good sleep” list like decreasing or eliminating screens before bed, and sleeping on a comfortable mattress and pillow in a cool, dark room.
If you’re going to take melatonin, use CBD with it as well. They don’t cause an undesired interaction with one another, and they help each other work better by dealing with stress, anxiety and the hormones associated with those as well as your melatonin levels.
There are natural ways to increase your melatonin with foods like tart cherry juice and pistachios and they’re great to combine with CBD
Always talk with your doctor about starting any new supplement or medication, especially if you’re already taking medication.
If you found this helpful, we’d really appreciate it if you would share this around the firehouse!