What exactly is melatonin?
Melatonin is a hormone produced naturally in the pineal gland at the base of the brain.
It is important in regulating sleep, and may play a role in maintaining circadian rhythm, the body’s natural time clock.
Natural melatonin production decreases with age, and the decrease is associated with some sleep disorders, particularly in the elderly.
The use of melatonin supplements became popular in the mid-1990s as a way of treating insomnia. (Adapted from Answers.com)
Why take it?
Studies suggest that supplements can hasten sleep and ease jet lag, without the hazards or side effects of prescription sleeping pills.
Melatonin may have many other uses and has been reported to make people feel better, strengthen the immune system, and reduce free radicals in the body.
Current research is exploring melatonin’s effect as an anti-oxidant, immno-modulator in cancer, delayed sleep-phase disorders, and more. For example: “… Consuming melatonin neutralizes oxidative damage and delays the neurodegenerative process of aging [in mice].” (Science Daily)
Tests are still underway, so there is much to still be learned about melatonin and its effects on the human body.
Is melatonin safe?
“Based on available studies and clinical use, melatonin is generally regarded as safe in recommended doses for short-term use.
“Available trials report that overall adverse effects are not significantly more common with melatonin than placebo.” (U.S. National Institutes of Health)
“In the most extensive clinical trial to date a high dose of 75 milligrams of melatonin per day was given to 1400 women in the Netherlands for up to four years with no ill effects.” (Newsweek, 6 Nov. 1995, 60-63.)
What is pharmacy grade melatonin?
Natural, animal, or bovine grade melatonin contains the actual extracts of the pineal gland. Because it comes from animal tissue, this grade of melatonin may be accompanied by viruses or proteins that could cause an antibody response. We highly recommend that people stay away from it.
The alternative is synthetic or pharmacy grade melatonin, which is produced from pharmaceutical grade ingredients. This form is molecularly identical to the melatonin the human body produces, without unwanted extras.
Who benefits the most?
Travelers and people suffering from mild sleep disorders.
Should certain people avoid it?
Yes. “Children and pregnant or nursing women should not take melatonin dietary supplements without a health professional’s approval.
“Do not drive or operate machinery when taking melatonin if it causes drowsiness.” (WebMD®)
Taking melatonin is inadvised with alcohol and other drugs, for sufferers from autoimmune disorder, liver or kidney disease, and more. See our cautions page for a specific breakdown.
Are there any side-effects?
“Based on available studies and clinical use, melatonin is generally regarded as safe in recommended doses for short-term use. Available trials report that overall adverse effects are not significantly more common with melatonin than placebo.” (U.S. National Institutes of Health)
“Side effects from taking melatonin may include changes in blood vessels that may affect blood flow, reduced sperm count, and lowering of the body’s temperature (hypothermia). These side effects go away when you stop taking melatonin. Other reversible side effects may include stomach problems, headache, depression, morning grogginess, and vivid dreams.” (WebMD®)
Does melatonin have the morning-after hangover effect of sleeping pills?
No. You should normally wake up well refreshed and full of energy. If you wake up feeling a little tired you should reduce your dosage until you wake up feeling well refreshed.
Should I consult my doctor before taking melatonin?
“During health examinations, tell your health professional if you are taking melatonin dietary supplements. Your health professional should also be aware if you are having difficulty sleeping, since it may be related to a medical condition.” (WebMD®)
“The U.S. Food and Drug Administration does not strictly regulate herbs and supplements. There is no guarantee of strength, purity or safety of products, and effects may vary. You should always read product labels. If you have a medical condition, or are taking other drugs, herbs, or supplements, you should speak with a qualified healthcare provider before starting a new therapy. Consult a healthcare provider immediately if you experience side effects.” (U.S. National Institutes of Health)
What is the recommended dosage?
“The appropriate dosage of melatonin varies widely from one person to another. If you have difficulty getting to sleep or staying asleep, your health professional can help determine the proper dosage and whether melatonin is right for you.” (WebMD®)
We recommend starting with 1.5 mg and go from there. See our dosage page for more information.
At what time should I take melatonin?
Researchers have administered melatonin anywhere from 30 minutes to 5 hours before bedtime. We recommend 30-60 minutes before bedtime.
I cannot swallow a tablet or capsule. How can I take melatonin?
We offer melatonin in a liquid. You could also open a capsule and sprinkle into it into a drink or onto soft food such as applesauce. Then swallow it without chewing. This works even for our sustained release melatonin, but be careful to not rub or break the melatonin up with your fingers. Doing so may disturb the sustained release coating and the sustained release quality may not work properly.
What additional benefits are there and how reliable are these claims?
“Scientists are looking at other possible effective uses for melatonin, including:
- Treating seasonal affective disorder (SAD).
- Helping regulate sleep for people who work evenings or nights.
- Preventing or reducing problems with sleeping or confusion after surgery.
- Reducing chronic cluster headaches.
“It has been suggested that melatonin, when taken as a supplement, may stop or delay the spread of cancer, strengthen the immune system, or slow the aging process. But these areas need further research.” (WebMD®)
What about the new experimental drug tasimelteon?
“The drug, tasimelteon, works by mimicking the effects of the naturally occurring hormone melatonin, which has long been identified as the regulator of the body’s sleep and wake patterns. … Dr. Irshaad Ebrahim, medical director of the London Sleep Centre, … confirms what experts already know. ‘I’m not sure this adds anything. Melatonin itself can be quite effective on its own.'”(“A New Pill for Jet Lag?” Time®, 2 Dec. 2008)