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Melatonin, Sleep & Back Pain: What You Need to Know

Published January 10, 2018
| Written By SpineNation Editorial Staff   | Medically Reviewed by Jerry Nichols, MD

Sleeping with back pain is hard. Yes, there are several prescription sleep aid medications, however, more times than not, the drug's side effects outweigh any positive sleep improvements. Maybe you're looking for a more holistic approach to sleep management?

Some experts suggest that one of the best natural sleep aid is melatonin — a hormone that is produced by the pineal gland that helps control your sleep and wake cycles. Does it hold up?

What is Melatonin and How Does it Work?

Melatonin is a natural hormone produced by the pineal gland, a small hormone-producing gland in the brain. It signals to your body that it’s night and to prepare for rest. It doesn’t make you sleep, but it puts the body in a restful state. The suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) releases melatonin at night as levels rise. The body produces 10 times as much melatonin in the evening as it does throughout the day.

“Millions of people in the United States use melatonin to help them get to sleep each night,” says Bill Fish, certified sleep science coach and founder of Tuck, a sleep health information website. “[But] It should be noted that our body naturally produces melatonin on a daily basis. Our body produces the hormone that kicks off a series of biochemical reactions. That said, many people take an over the counter melatonin supplement essentially to jump start the sleep process.”

What Does Natural Melatonin Do in My Body?

Your body was born with an internal clock that manages the natural series of sleeping and waking. Your body's natural clock also manages how much melatonin your body will produce. Ordinarily, melatonin levels in your blood will remain elevated for roughly 12 hours—spanning from the night up until your first sight of daylight when the levels decrease.

Struggling to fall asleep.

Light plays a role in how much melatonin your body will produce. Throughout the shorter (and colder) days of winter, your body's natural melatonin system may produce it earlier or later in the day than normal. This can throw your body off its rhythm. Fish recommends maintaining a sleeping schedule to prevent insomnia.

“Our bodies have an internal 24-hour clock built in known as our circadian rhythm. Our bodies are creatures of habit and having a standardized sleep routine gives you the best chance to get a great night of sleep,” says Fish.

Why Should I Take Melatonin for Sleeping Problems?

You want to ensure you're following all the instructions on the product label when taking this supplement. Don't consume more or less than is recommended by your pharmacist or medical professionals. A typical dose for treating insomnia in adults is between two-tenths of a milligram and five milligrams an hour before bedtime.

Normally, melatonin is consumed on an as-needed basis, therefore, you may not be on a dosing schedule. However, people of different ages will require varying dosages of melatonin. Nevertheless, you want to consume the lowest dose when you first begin taking melatonin.

“If your sleep patterns are disrupted whether due to jet lag, shift work, or even chronic pain, melatonin can be a great tool to get your body and mind ready to get to sleep,” said Fish.
Sleeping after taking melatonin.

In addition, these natural supplements can also be employed to treat jet lag as well as sleeping problems including insomnia.

Researchers are now studying other positive uses for melatonin, including:

  • Treating seasonal affective disorder (SAD).
  • Helping to control sleep patterns for people who work night shifts.
  • Preventing or reducing problems with sleeping especially sleeping after surgery.
  • Reducing chronic cluster headaches.

Is Taking a Melatonin Dietary Supplement Safe?

Melatonin is safe for insomnia or occasional sleeplessness. There are warnings though. Children and pregnant or women who are nursing shouldn't take melatonin without talking to a doctor first.

Before adding melatonin to your nighttime routine, share with your healthcare provider, if you have any of the following medical conditions:

Melatonin also has side effects, however, they will go away when you stop taking it. Those side effects may include:

  • Sleepiness
  • Lower body temperature
  • Vivid dreams
  • Morning grogginess
  • Small changes in blood pressure

Taking melatonin for back pain.

Too much melatonin at one time may also cause headaches, nausea, dizziness, or irritability. Melatonin may increase immune function and may interfere with certain immunosuppressive drugs, therefore, before you begin taking melatonin, you'll want to talk to a doctor or specialist.

"In general, a melatonin supplement is not recommended for long-term use," says Caleb Backe, health & wellness expert for Maple Holistics. "The side effects of this supplement are usually only seen when used extensively and can include dizziness, headaches and falling asleep throughout the day. This supplement is definitely not a replacement to ‘boost’ your natural production of the hormone but is effective as a short-term fix."

Where Can I Purchase a Melatonin Supplement?

Melatonin is offered over the counter in the United States. If you live in Europe, you'll need a prescription from your doctor, which may be wise for first-time users. Fish concludes, “We strongly recommend consulting a physician before taking melatonin on a regular basis.” 

This evening when you begin your nighttime routine, brush your teeth as normal, put on your pajamas, and climb into your nighttime throne actually ready for bed.

If you're tired of tossing and turning, you may want to consider melatonin.

Updated: March 2, 2020

Information provided within this article is for educational purposes and is not a substitute for medical advice. Those seeking specific medical advice should consult his or her doctor or surgeon. If you need to consult with a specialist, you may be able find a health care provider in our Specialist Finder. SpineNation does not endorse treatments, procedures, products or physicians.

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Contributors and Experts

Caleb Backe is a certified personal trainer and expert in health & wellness.
Bill Fish is a Certified Sleep Science Coach and co-founder of Tuck, a sleep-related health information website.