Vaping melatonin is a thing --- will a melatonin pen help you achieve better sleep?
Melatonin has been a bit of a buzzword in the last few years as more and more Americans have turned to this over-the-counter supplement for sleep help. It makes sense --- getting high-quality ZZZs seems ever more elusive in our world of screens and stress, and melatonin supplements are marketed as a relatively safe and gentle slumber solution.
Recently, melatonin has been popping up on social media, but this time with a new spin: it seems that melatonin vapes, or pens, are the hot sleep aid of the moment. Many people are raving about this new inhalable form of the popular supplement. But with all the online discourse surrounding the trend, it can be difficult to distinguish fact from advertisement.
So the question is, do these vaporizers really help you get better sleep? And are they healthy?
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These are important questions to answer before you jump on the bandwagon with this particular fad.
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What is a melatonin pen?
A melatonin pen, also known as a melatonin diffuser or vape, is basically an electronic vaporizer that allows you to inhale melatonin. It’s the latest in the ever-evolving options for over-the-counter melatonin supplements… but unlike the typical pills and gummies, this is a form of melatonin that you breathe into your lungs as a vapor rather than swallow or eat.
Basically, these vaporizer devices hold a liquid containing melatonin (along with other additives and extracts), which turns into a mist when inhaled. They’re called “pens” due to their pen-like shape. They look more or less like your average e-cigarette, but they deliver melatonin instead of nicotine, and the majority of the options on the market claim to contain fewer chemical additives than typical nicotine vapes, though they aren’t FDA-regulated so this claim isn’t confirmed.
A quick note: while people online are using the term “diffuser” to refer to melatonin pens, it’s important to be aware that using a vaporizer is not equivalent to practicing aromatherapy. The difference is that, in the case of a vape or e-cigarette, you’re breathing an aerosol substance directly into your lungs rather than diffusing aromas into your surroundings as you do with aromatherapy.
What does a melatonin vape pen do?
Like any type of vape, melatonin pens deliver their contained substance into your lungs.
Here’s how this typically works: when you activate the pen, usually done by pressing a button or inhaling on the opening, this activates a battery-powered heating device. This then heats the liquid-containing chamber or cartridge so that the substance vaporizes and becomes a breathable mist or aerosol.
The idea here is that inhaled melatonin can be instantly absorbed by the lungs, quickly entering the bloodstream so that you feel the effects almost immediately. At least, that’s the selling point of melatonin pens and the general premise of all vapable products.
Do melatonin pens help with sleep?
Because melatonin pens are so new --- the very first one was introduced within the last five years or so --- there is no substantial scientific data on their efficacy thus far. There is plenty of anecdotal information floating around and the pens are really popular on social media, but a lack of controlled clinical trials means there’s no guarantee that a breathable delivery method for melatonin is effective in the intended way.
While research is needed on vapable melatonin, there are plenty of studies on the use and efficacy of oral melatonin supplements. You might be surprised to learn that there’s actually not enough strong evidence to support melatonin supplementation for chronic or long-term insomnia. That said, melatonin may help with short-term sleep disruptions, like jet lag, delayed sleep-wake phase disorder, and anxiety before or after surgery.
But it’s important to note that natural melatonin release in the body doesn’t happen all at once. Instead, it’s more gradual and rhythmic. If everything is working as it should, your melatonin secretion will increase at the onset of night, rising gradually until a peak around 2 a.m. or 4 a.m., then declining until the morning. This is in accordance with your circadian rhythm.
Here’s how this relates to melatonin pens: vaping substances into the lungs allows them to enter your bloodstream more or less immediately. While the idea of quickly raising your body’s melatonin levels may seem appealing, the effect may not be what you expect, since this instant delivery method of the hormone does not align with the body’s natural rhythms. In contrast to other substances, melatonin is one that you actually might not want to be delivered instantaneously.
Plus, a melatonin overdose, which might happen more easily when vaping compared to oral supplements, can lead you to feel more awake or to experience undesirable side effects like headaches, crankiness, upset stomach, or anxiety.
In summation, clinical studies on melatonin pens are needed before a definitive statement can be made about their efficacy in helping with sleep. These trendy products may not live up to their promises.
Is it safe to inhale melatonin?
Once again, the lack of research makes it difficult to answer this question. However, there is scientific data on the two components that make up melatonin pens: vaporizers and melatonin supplements.
While vaping gets praised for being better for you than smoking, that doesn’t mean it’s actually good for you. In fact, regardless of whether you’re inhaling nicotine, melatonin, or something else, preliminary research suggests that vaping of any kind has its risks. A 2019 review noted that vaping exposes users to potentially toxic particulates and chemicals. Even in melatonin pens, there are additives in addition to melatonin, and the lack of long-term research on vaping means it’s not possible to deem inhalable melatonin safe. Additionally, because these pens are marketed as dietary supplements, they don’t fall under FDA regulation. This means there are no regulated standards, and they can be sold without any safety or quality testing.
Beyond the risks of vaping, melatonin supplementation itself isn’t safe for everyone, including people who are pregnant and people with autoimmune conditions. Melatonin also has a range of drug interactions, so if you’re taking any medications, you should make sure there won’t be an issue before you try supplementing with melatonin. In general, as with most supplements, it’s best to check with your doctor before you add melatonin --- including the vapable variety --- to your routine.
Alternatives to melatonin vape pens
Since the jury is still out on the safety and efficacy of melatonin vape pens, you might be wondering what your other options are. The good news? There are plenty of sleep-supporting alternatives out there.
Take oral melatonin or other sleep supplements
If you’re still interested in melatonin supplementation, there are plenty of over-the-counter tablets, gummies, capsules, liquids, lozenges, and sprays from which to choose --- none of which require inhalation.
But melatonin isn’t your only option when it comes to natural sleep remedies.
Valerian root is one of the most popular melatonin alternatives, and it’s been used in traditional medicine as a sleep aid for thousands of years. There are various studies suggesting that the use of this herb may help you sleep better, but as with melatonin, this can vary between different people.
If you’re looking for the gentlest possible option, chamomile is a popular nighttime tea that many people drink to support better slumber. While research on chamomile’s effectiveness as a sleep aid is insufficient, this is a mild, simple supplement that’s been used in various herbal medicine traditions to treat insomnia and other ailments.
Another supplement to consider is magnesium, though you should get your body’s levels checked before adding this to your regimen, because both too-low and too-high levels can disturb sleep and because this supplement can cause unpleasant side effects.
Keep in mind that when it comes to supplementation, a guess-and-check method isn’t the safest option. While that works okay for fine-tuning lifestyle adjustments, if you take this approach with supplementation, you could actually end up exacerbating your problems or creating new ones.
That’s where Base’s sleep testing service comes into the picture: the custom at-home test allows you to easily check various hormone, nutrient, and vitamin levels to determine what might be causing your sleep issues. Based on your results, you’ll then receive specific and actionable suggestions for supplementation (and lifestyle adjustments), plus the ongoing testing will help you track your results over time to be sure you’re giving your body what it needs.
Practice better sleep hygiene
Beyond supplementation, there are lifestyle changes you can make to improve your sleep quality and quantity. “Sleep hygiene” refers to your behavioural and environmental practices surrounding sleep, and practicing good sleep hygiene is a step in the right direction.
First, make sure your bedroom environment is ideal for sound sleep. It should be dark, quiet, and cool, and your mattress, pillows, and bedding should be comfortable. Second, settle into a regular nightly routine. Try to go to sleep and wake up around the same time each day, stay away from electronics at bedtime, use dim lights at night, and try relaxation techniques like meditation, stretching, or deep breathing. Finally, develop healthy daily habits. Get exercise (but not too close to bedtime), get daytime sun exposure when possible, cut down on caffeine and alcohol consumption, and don’t go to bed on an empty or too-full stomach.
There are plenty of small adjustments you can make to be sure you’re setting yourself up for the best possible slumber --- no supplements involved. Before you try something drastic like a melatonin vape pen, consider making smaller adjustments. They just might do the trick!