Melatonin is the natural hormone your body secretes that helps maintain your wake-sleep cycle. Your wake-sleep averages 8 hours of nighttime sleep and 16 hours of daytime activity. Synthetic melatonin is available over the counter.
Normally, your body makes more melatonin at night. Levels usually start to go up in the evening once the sun sets. They drop in the morning when the sun goes up. The amount of light you get each day, plus your own body clock, sets how much of this hormone your body makes.
You can also buy melatonin supplements. They come in pills, liquids, and chewables. You might find them in natural or synthetic forms. Synthetic forms are free of viruses and contaminants.
Melatonin: Major Use
People use melatonin when they have insomnia, such as trouble falling asleep and staying asleep. They also take it for other sleep problems. This could include something called delayed sleep phase disorder. If you have that, falling asleep before 2 a.m. is tough. So is getting up in the morning.
Folks may also try it if they have jobs that disrupt typical sleep schedules, a condition called sleep work disorder.
It’s used to treat or prevent jet lag, too. That’s the tired, run-down feeling some get when they’re traveling across time zones.
Doctors are also studying to see if it can help with:
- Alzheimer’s disease
- Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS)
- High nighttime blood pressure
- Sleep problems in children with autism spectrum disorders
Is It Safe?
While it creates fewer side effects than other sleep medicines, you may still experience the following:
- Daytime sleepiness
- Stomach discomfort
- A “heavy head” feeling
- Short-lived depression
Melatonin supplements might cause problems if you take them together with some medicines, including:
- Blood-thinning medications (anticoagulants)
- Drugs that suppress the immune system (immunosuppressants)
- Diabetes drugs
- Birth control pills
Is Melatonin Effective?
Everybody reacts differently to medicines and supplements, so melatonin may or may not work for you.
Right now, the jury is still out on this hormone’s benefits. Some studies say it could help with jet lag as well as some other sleep issues like delayed sleep phase disorder, shift work disorder, and some sleep disorders with children.
However, other research shows it may let people with insomnia fall asleep slightly faster and better; but not necessarily longer.
Still more studies have shown that melatonin doesn’t help sleep problems at all. There’s also not enough research to indicate that it helps with any other conditions not related to sleep.
Watch this very informative video on melatonin: