Pregnancy may be one of the most sleepless times of your life, making it tempting to reach for a bottle of melatonin pills. However, it’s important to remain aware of the risks associated with taking any form of medication during this time– and that includes taking melatonin.
But melatonin is just a natural hormone your body produces for sleep, so there’s no harm in aiding that with a sleeping pill, right? Well, there’s a bit more to it.
What Melatonin Is
Melatonin is a hormone naturally produced by your brain that helps you calm down. The hormone is activated with darkness, so if you are trying to sleep in a room with lights, you’ll find it more difficult. It doesn’t directly make you fall asleep but helps to promote it.
Melatonin supplements can be taken to help you fall asleep or to help you calm down before surgery by functioning as a sleep aid. If you have a sleep disorder, a doctor may recommend a melatonin supplement to help. It is typically made synthetically, and natural ones are rarer but made from animals.
Your natural melatonin levels rise about two hours before your usual bedtime. It is important to keep this time as steady as possible so that you do not throw off your circadian rhythm (sleep cycle) because this could undermine your ability to produce melatonin before bed. For those struggling with insomnia, a disorder that makes it difficult to fall asleep, you may feel the need to get some outside help with melatonin tablets that can help raise your melatonin levels quickly before you plan to fall asleep.
Sleep and Pregnancy
Your sleep cycle may change drastically during pregnancy, and it may feel different for everyone. Typically, you may find yourself falling asleep easily and a lot more than usual during the first trimester. Getting a lot of sleep is important throughout your entire pregnancy, but as you move into the second and third trimesters, you may find it a lot more difficult to get a good night’s rest.
Why It’s Difficult to Get Enough Sleep During Pregnancy
There are many reasons you might feel that you aren’t able to fall asleep as easily later in pregnancy. One of the most notable is that you can’t find a comfortable way to sleep as your baby grows. However, other systems in your body are affected as well by the size of the fetus.
Heartbeat and Breathing
During pregnancy, your heart rate increases to pump more blood to your reproductive system. Additionally, you may experience shortness of breath due to the pressure from your baby that pushes onto your diaphragm. These two symptoms are a result of your body needing to work harder to supply to not just you, but the fetus, and can cause interrupted sleep.
Aches and Cramps
With all of the extra weight as your pregnancy goes on, your body may be more prone to injury and cramping, which can manifest at the most inconvenient times– right when you try to fall asleep! Additionally, the changing hormones can make you more prone to injuries, so you may feel more aches.
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Medication and Pregnancy
The standard rule is that you must consult with a healthcare provider before taking any form of medication during pregnancy. Even over-the-counter medications may be dangerous. If you took medication before you knew that you were pregnant, you should immediately let your healthcare provider know.
Taking medication during pregnancy has many risks mainly associated with the development of your baby rather than your own body’s health. Studies show that taking medication during pregnancy can increase the risk of birth defects, disabilities related to brain development, miscarriages, and the possibility of infant death.
Other factors also play into the severity of the risk, including how high your dose was, the frequency that you were taking the medicine, the stage of your pregnancy that you took it in, your health conditions, and its interaction with other medications you may have taken. Typically, the first trimester is the most unsafe time to take medication because this is when the most basic development is taking place, and at a fast pace.
Another reason to be wary of melatonin is that it is not regulated as a drug, rather as a supplement. Notice that line reading ‘these statements have not been approved by the FDA’ on some supplements? Technically, the companies may be lying about the strength and quality of what’s in your supplement. Different melatonin supplements can contain different dosages of melatonin without you even knowing it, and the manufacturers can claim whatever they want since most supplements have not been approved by the FDA. A study found that the strength of various melatonin medications varied up to 478% more than what was packaged– scary!
Can I Take Melatonin While Pregnant?
All of these warnings on medication have likely left you with the question of whether or not you can take melatonin during pregnancy. For many, taking melatonin is a normal part of their daily routine, and you may feel that you need it to fall asleep.
Scientists currently don’t have enough data on the effects of melatonin on pregnancy to give a definite answer on whether or not it is safe. Nonetheless, some doctors may recommend it to a pregnant woman who needs it to deal with the symptoms.
There was one study conducted on rat pups to test the effects of melatonin on the development of newly born rat pups. From conception, one group of rats were given melatonin daily, and a control group received no melatonin. The body mass, mortality rate, and weights of the newborn rat pups were measured over a few weeks and some differences and trends were noticed by the researchers. The rat pups who had been born to a mother that was taking melatonin were smaller, weighed less, and had a higher mortality rate than those that did not take any melatonin. However, scientists cannot say for sure that this was a direct result of melatonin, nor can they apply this as a rule for humans.
One important thing to note is that while you may feel especially tired at the beginning of your pregnancy, your natural melatonin levels will actually rise throughout the rest of it. So by taking a regular dosage of melatonin, you may actually have too much melatonin in your system due to the extra melatonin your body creates during pregnancy. So for some, simply waiting and going to bed at a normal time every day may prove that it is possible to fall asleep comfortably later in pregnancy.
Based on your individual circumstance, your doctor may or may not recommend that you take melatonin. Even if you are set on taking it anyways, it is still critical to ask your healthcare provider what a healthy dosage plan will look like due to the changes in your natural melatonin levels. If you are suffering from pre-eclampsia, a serious pregnancy condition characterized by high blood pressure and protein-heavy urine, you may feel tempted to take melatonin to calm these symptoms down at night. However, there is not enough research to determine whether or not melatonin is safe for this specific condition, so you should avoid it until speaking with a trusted doctor. As a general rule, it’s best to avoid melatonin while you are pregnant.
What is Insomnia?
Insomnia is the main sleep condition that affects pregnant women. It is a type of sleep disorder that is common in the general population as well that shows symptoms of a messy sleep schedule. You may find yourself dozing off at random times during the day and feeling constantly sluggish while being unable to sleep at all at night. You may also experience mood changes like irritability or mental health disorders like depression and anxiety.
According to the Mayo Clinic, certain lifestyle choices may affect your likelihood of developing insomnia. These include eating too much right before bed, keeping an unsteady sleep schedule, sleeping with too much light, and high-stress levels. Do you hear people say that their stress keeps them up at night, with so much to worry about? It can really play a part in a potential development of a sleep disorder!
Additionally, consuming substances like caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol, as well as other prescription medications for medical conditions, can affect your chance of getting the disorder.
Natural Ways to Improve Melatonin Production
Now that you’ve likely realized it’s best to stay away from sleep medicine during pregnancy (unless recommended by your doctor), you’re probably wondering what you can do to help your insomnia without it and how to produce more natural melatonin.
There’s usually no magical cure for insomnia. It will take some change on your part in terms of lifestyle– but the effects will be worth it! It’s best to give these changes a try before looking into any medicines. Reducing stress, loosening off of any nicotine, alcohol, or caffeine dependency, and eating a balanced diet can be all it takes to get your sleep back on track. One of the most effective things you can do is go to sleep at the same time every day. This will reset and stabilize your body’s circadian rhythm and it will know when to produce melatonin naturally.
“Sleep hygiene” is a term used to describe natural and simple lifestyle changes that can promote quality sleep. These seemingly too-good-to-be-true tips can completely change your sleep routine if you make an effort to establish them as habits. Some ways you can improve your ‘sleep hygiene’ is by avoiding screen time before bed and turning off all lights (remember, melatonin production is stimulated by darkness), exercising every day, and regulating your caffeine intake.
Taking natural substances may be an additional supplement to lifestyle changes to help insomnia.
Chamomile is a type of herbal natural remedy for insomnia. Some say that it helps calm them down after taking it in a tea. Although many swear by it, it hasn’t been proved as an official treatment or an effective solution. It may just be a placebo. However, making chamomile tea one night before bed may help you decide if this method can help you.
Tryptophan is an essential substance that helps to create serotonin in the brain. You may have heard of this being present in amino acid supplements. Milk also contains tryptophan, and many believe that this is why drinking some warm milk before bed helped them fall asleep as a child. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter in the brain that stabilizes mood and also plays a part in stable sleep. However, studies warned that taking tryptophan as a supplement for sleep has caused death and an inflammatory syndrome called EMS in some people. If you are interested in trying tryptophan as a possible remedy for insomnia, it is best to get it in your diet. Tryptophan-rich foods include eggs, beans, nuts, and turkey.
Additionally, drinking a warm tea marketed for sleep or relaxation may help with cramps, which in turn can help your sleep. Some teas are also marketed towards stress relief. Even if it functions as a placebo, calming your mind and reducing stressful thoughts before bed can play a huge role in letting your body rest too. Lastly, it’s important to remain active while pregnant (unless your doctor advises against it). Look into pregnancy workouts and stretches that can get you some light exercise every day. This will leave you more tired by the end of the day so that you are ready to get a full night’s sleep.
Medication to Help Insomnia During Pregnancy
If you made all the necessary lifestyle changes and still find yourself losing sleep, you may now want to see a doctor and discuss prescription options. While you may think melatonin is the only option, there are plenty of prescription sleep aids for pregnant women that are safer due to the larger amount of testing done on them.
Tylenol PM is an over-the-counter, light sleep treatment that is safe for pregnant women. The active ingredient in Tylenol is the painkiller acetaminophen, which has not been shown to increase the risk of birth defects and is safe for pregnancy and recommended by doctors as a painkiller for pregnant women. Tylenol PM is a little different in that it also contains a type of Benadryl called diphenhydramine, which is also safe but can make your baby drowsy too.
Unisom is a well-known over-the-counter sleep aid that is taken in the form of a tablet. It contains doxylamine succinate, which is what promotes drowsiness. The FDA has approved this anti-histamine medication as safe for pregnancy, even if you are taking it often. However, you must still ask your doctor before starting as everyone’s pregnancy is different, and it may interact with other medicine that you are taking. Some pregnant women also take this medicine to help with vomiting and nausea.
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All in all, it’s best to stay away from medication, including supplemental melatonin, while pregnant altogether. While pregnant, you may find yourself losing sleep due to the growing size of your baby which can put pressure on other systems of your body. However, your body naturally raises its melatonin levels as your pregnancy goes on into the second and third trimesters. Insomnia is the most common sleep disorder associated with pregnancy, and most are tempted to reach for a bottle of sleeping pills to help with it. However, you must always speak to a healthcare provider before taking melatonin. They can determine whether or not it is safe and also let you know what dose is safe for you.
It’s always best to try and promote quality sleep through natural methods. Better sleep habits, or “sleep hygiene,” is the perfect way to accomplish this. These include eating a balanced diet, maintaining a normal bedtime, making sure all lights and screens are off, and reducing stress can ensure that it’s not a lifestyle problem causing your insomnia. Other natural remedies to try to include chamomile and tryptophan, if taken through your diet (consult with a doctor before starting any supplements).
If natural remedies aren’t cutting it, there are options out there for pregnant women aside from melatonin that is over the counter but may prove safer as scientists have studied their effects on pregnancy well enough to provide a conclusion. Tylenol PM and Unisom are two examples of doctor-approved OTC sleep aids for pregnant women (but be sure to still let your doctor know before starting).