Melatonin, produced in the brain’s pineal gland, regulates the sleep-and-wake cycle. Scads of of sleep-challenged people throw back a few milligrams of the vitamin on the reg to help them fall and stay asleep. But now, a team of “Harvard Dropouts,” as reported by South China Morning Post, have created a melatonin spray. They call it “Sprayable Sleep,” purportedly delivering everyone’s favorite sleepy-time supplement in a more efficient, time-released manner.
Think of Sprayable Sleep as the Prius of melatonin administration. Standard melatonin pills range from three to 10 milligrams apiece. Our bodies don’t need anywhere near that amount of the hormone to start feeling drowsy, but swallowed pills don’t enter the bloodstream directly. They first travel to the liver, which sucks up most of the melatonin while metabolizing it. Spraying melatonin onto skin (two spritzes on the neck) is said to enable direct absorption into the bloodstream.
In other words, Sprayable Sleep contains far less melatonin-per-dose — but our bodies can make use of every last droplet. While taking an excessive amount of melatonin via oral transmission isn’t particularly effective, according to Sprayable Sleep, it may be detrimental to our circadian rhythms.
Bunk or brilliant?
It’s hard to tell. The concept sort of makes sense, according to Rudiger Hardeland, a German scientist who’s studied circadian rhythms and hormone regulation.
“In principle, it is correct that oral melatonin has first to enter the gastrointestinal tract before reaching the circulation," he told Van Winkle's. "Moreover, melatonin taken up by the gut is partially eliminated by the liver. However, it is not that certain that higher amounts of orally administered melatonin are really disturbing the circadian system, as authors indicate. Melatonin is usually well tolerated, even at very high doses.”
Hardeland cautioned that, without hard data on absorption rates, it’s impossible to draw a definite conclusion.
Additionally, falling and staying asleep are different issues. Melatonin reliably helps induce sleep — at much lower doses than three milligrams. But, even at high doses, melatonin doesn’t do much to help people sleep through the night, regardless of how it’s administered.
“The use of a spray for the same purpose would only be a matter of the user's convenience,” said Hardeland, “whatever the personal preference may be.”
Still, melatonin fans could perform their own (entirely unofficial) studies at home, according to MIT sleep doctor Richard Wurtman, who wrote:
“The problem is knowing that the spray delivered the right amount of melatonin — not too little and not too much — and that, administered this way, it did enter the bloodstream. The simplest way to affirm this would be for a prospective user first to see if taking the correct oral dose of melatonin (0.3 mg or up to 1.0 mg) worked for him/her…then, if it did work, seeing whether administering the melatonin via the spray gave comparable good results.”
So, maybe the key to reaping maximum soporific benefits from melatonin is to swallow and spray.