Melatonin is a hormone that is produced by the pineal gland. The pineal gland is a small organ located in the brain. The pineal secretes melatonin in anticipation of night and is partially responsible for keeping daily rhythms.

Melatonin is produced from the amino acid tryptophan and in addition to its effect in regulating circadian rhythms also acts as a potent antioxidant. This hormone also plays a role in skin darkening and is suspected to play a role in melanoma.

As a dietary supplement, melatonin has been used for a variety of purposes. The most common purpose is to improve sleep or to combat jet lag. Taking the hormone a few hours before sleep can adjust the sleep cycle and promote more restful sleep and more alter wakefulness on rising. There is no doubt that it works and works well for this purpose.

Melatonin is also used to promote restful sleeping in the elderly (particularly those with dementia) and in children with autism. Anyone who has dealt with an autistic child or an older person with dementia knows that getting to sleep and staying to sleep can be a major challenge. Again, for these purposes, melatonin seems to work fairly well and is non habit-forming or narcotic in nature.

There are some other potential effects of melatonin that may be of use as a dietary supplement. One potential use is in boosting the immune system. As we age, our immune system becomes less efficient. The supplementation has been shown to have some effect in boosting immune system function.


Many people are suffering from short term or acute and chronic insomnia. In fact, 75% of the American population has been found to be suffering from various symptoms of this sleeping disorder. Many others are experiencing signs of other sleeping disorders. Still many are suffering from medical and health conditions which results to chronic pain and discomfort and make sleep impossible.

However, most of those feeling the signs and symptoms of insomnia are usually due to their hectic and stressful lifestyle coupled with unhealthy habits that do not promote good sleeping routines. Many forms of natural and alternative treatments are being encouraged in people with insomnia. Some stick to prescription or over-the-counter sleep medications to help them have a good night’s sleep.

It would be easy for us to jump into the bandwagon and check out if these overwhelmingly popular sleep inducing supplements are indeed true. Nevertheless, it is important to familiarize yourself about this first, before going ahead and purchasing a great number of it from the nearest drugstore.

Melatonin is a natural hormone created by our brain’s pineal gland. This diminutive endocrine gland is located somewhere in the base of our brain. The major role being played by melatonin is the proper regulation of the circadian rhythm of our body. This is the internat clock in our body affecting our sleeping and waking routines.

Production of melatonin is encouraged by darkness and repressed by light, which earned its title “the hormone of darkness.” As soon as a person’s environment darkens, this hormone increases in production and sleep becomes induced upon the person, necessitating him or her to lessen motor activity and allow the body to restore and refresh itself.

Melatonin is also well known to boost up the body’s immune system. It is found to be a powerful antioxidant that can protect the cells from being damaged.

In many cases, the inability to go to sleep and have sufficient and restful sleep is due to the diminished production of melatonin in the brain. Technological innovations paved the way for quite a lot of artificial lighting, which causes disruptions in the production of melatonin.

The production Melatonin sleep aid dietary supplements and melatonin sleeping aids are based on the idea that the functions of the natural melatonin hormone can be sustained out of synthetic melatonin. ln this way, even with lots of lights that would usually interfere with natural melatonin production, people can still take melatonin supplements to increase the levels of it in their blood and provoke steepiness.


Melatonin and insomnia

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The proper melatonin dosage varies greatly from person to person. It is generally recommended that a person begin with a small dose (around 1-mg) and work their way up to larger dose if necessary. Pills are commonly available in doses ranging from 1mg to 3mg. If you are wondering what dosage is needed for melatonin sleep aid supplements to take effect, this is answered by a study conducted in Massachusetts’s Institute of Technology. It was found that taking a small amount of melatonin sleep aid is much more effective. The recommended dose is roughly 0.3 milligrams.

For sleep disorders associated with stress, shift work or menopause, melatonin is best taken at nighttime thirty to sixty minutes before going to sleep.

To avoid the effects of jet-lag when traveling across multiple time zones, ingestion prior to getting on the flight is recommended followed by another dosage prior to going to bed.

Melatonin is available without prescription in most parts of the United States and Canada but is available only by prescription (or not at all) in other countries. The hormone may be administered orally, as capsules, tablets or liquid, sublingually, or as a transdermal patch.

Melatonin is also available as a prolonged-release prescription drug with the trade-name Circadin. The European Medicines Agency (EMA) has approved 2mg Circadin for patients who are aged 55 or over for the short-term treatment (up to 13 weeks) of primary insomnia characterized by poor quality of sleep.

Women who are suffering from sleep loss due to hormonal changes during menopause may wish to explore the use of progesterone cream which can be used for longer periods than is recommended for melatonin.


Melatonin and insomnia

Courtesy: Joana Coccarelli/ Flickr

It was sometime in the mid-1990 when melatonin sleep aid supplements were introduced and claimed to be effective in decreasing the amount of time required to fall asleep during bedtime. There were also claims that melatonin sleep aid has no side effects as compared to regular sleeping pills, which oftentimes become quite addictive and harmful to the well-being of a person during prolonged use. Research has found melatonin sleeps aids to be effective with sleep disturbance resulting from various medical conditions as well as from jet-lag and shift work. But people vary in their response to melatonin and require different dosages for the desired result. For most healthy people, low doses of melatonin cause few side effects when taken for periods up to three months. However, some people may experience unwanted effects such as headaches, nausea, grogginess, irritability, hormone fluctuations, vivid dreams or nightmares or reduced blood flow especially at doses of 3mg/day or more. Melatonin can also cause drowsiness and therefore should not be taken when driving or operating machinery.

Melatonin should not be used by children, teenagers, or pregnant or lactating women. People with the following conditions should also avoid using melatonin sleep aids:

  • auto-immune diseases (such as Crohn’s, rheumatoid arthritis, Lupus, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, Graves… )
  • diabetes
  • depression (especially if taking an MAO inhibitor) epilepsy
  • lymph proliferative disorders (such as lymphoma and leukemia)

People suffering from any of these conditions should consult a physician before taking a melatonin sleep aid.

Melatonin does not require approval from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and is not subjected to the same controls placed on drugs. For this reason, there is little information on melatonin’s interaction with other medications.

The good news is melatonin is generally regarded as safe in recommended doses for short-term use (three months or less) according to the National Institute of Health (NIH). Looking at available studies and clinical use, melatonin’s overall side effects are not significantly more common than placebo, the control group that didn’t take melatonin. Commonly experienced melatonin side effects include fatigue, dizziness, headache, irritability, and sleepiness, although these effects may occur due to jet lag and not to melatonin itself.

In that context of its overall safety profile, you should still keep a watch out for out-of-the-norm melatonin side effects that have been reported and raised some concerns. These are:

  1. Seizures: Melatonin may lower seizure threshold and increase the risk of seizure, particularly in children with severe neurologic disorders. However, multiple other studies actually report reduced incidence of seizure with regular melatonin use. Hence, this remains an area of controversy.
  2. Disorientation with overdose: This is accompanied by confusion, sleepwalking, vivid dreams, and nightmares. Fortunately, these melatonin side effects often resolve after stopping melatonin.
  3. Mood changes including giddiness and dysphoria (sadness)
  4. Blood ctotting abnormalities (particularly in people taking warfarin)
  5. Psychotic symptom: Hallucinations and paranoia are possibly due to an overdose. People with underlying major depression or psychotic disorders taking melatonin should be monitored closely by a healthcare professional.
  6. Elevated blood sugar levels (hyperglycemia): This melatonin side effect is mainly reported in patients with type 1 diabetes (insulin-dependent diabetes). Low doses of melatonin reduced glucose tolerance and insulin sensitivity in these cases.
  7. Hormonal changes: This affects both men and women. For men, increased breast size (gynecomastia), decreased sperm count and decreased sperm motility have been reported. Fortunately, these are resolved after stopping melatonin. For women, decreases or increases in levels of reproductive, thyroid and growth hormones have been reported. High levels of melatonin during pregnancy may increase the risk of developmental disorders. ln animal studies, melatonin is detected in breast milk.

Avoid Melatonin if you are;

  • taking the blood-thinning medication like warfarin, aspirin or heparin’ o suffering from neurologic disorders and taking anti-epileptic drugs
  • suffering from depression or other psychotic disorders
  • diabetes especially Type 1 diabetes patient
  • pregnant or are a nursing mother

Overall, don’t throw the baby out with the bath water. The big picture is that when the recommended doses are used for short term, melatonin is generally safe. That’s probably another reason why it’s popular for jet lag and the effects of shift work. And the fact is, you have to find not just any doctor but one who is familiar with your health profile to determine if your profile puts you at risk of those side effects of melatonin outlined.

Image sources: FlickrMaxPixel, Flickr