Melatonin is a hormone that is naturally-produced in the pineal gland located in the brain. It helps the body control sleep and wake cycles. It is also found in many foods and drinks, including meats, grains, fruits and vegetables, beer, and wine. It can also be purchased or prescribed as a supplement to help with sleep patterns.
Foods that are excellent sources of naturally-occurring melatonin include:
● Tart cherries
● Rolled oats
● Sunflower seeds
● Mustard seed
How Melatonin Works
Everyone needs melatonin to help control the natural cycle of sleep and awake. Typically, the pineal gland secretes higher levels of melatonin in mid- to late evening to encourage sleepiness. Levels remain high throughout the night and drop again in the early morning to assist with arousal.
Natural light can affect the quantity of melatonin that your body produces. For instance, in the winter months, you may notice that you become sleepy earlier in the evening. As the days shorten during the winter, your body may manufacture more melatonin earlier than usual, which can lead to medical problems. Seasonal Affective Disorder (or SAD) is a common condition that is sometimes referred to as winter depression. With SAD, people feel the onset of depression and a noted drop in energy due to the decreased sunlight.
Older adults may develop sleep disorders due to the characteristic decrease of melatonin levels as the body ages.
Why Use Melatonin Supplements?
Your doctor may recommend melatonin as a dietary supplement or even provide a prescription to take to your pharmacy. Conditions in which melatonin may help include:
- Jet lag: Melatonin can help the body recognize new sleep patterns and assist travelers in adjusting to the time change.
- Insomnia: Sometimes insomnia is caused by the body’s inability to stabilize the sleep and wake cycle. Melatonin can correct this issue and reset the body’s clock.
- Seasonal Affective Disorder: As mentioned, SAD can result from the shortening daylight hours during the winter months. Melatonin may effectively assist in controlling the symptoms of SAD.
- Irregular sleep patterns: Melatonin may be prescribed to individuals who work night shift and are having trouble adjusting their sleep patterns to a non-traditional sleep/wake schedule.
- After surgery: Physicians may prescribe melatonin to patients to prevent or reduce issues with sleeping and confusion following surgery.
- Cluster headaches: Melatonin may help reduce chronic cluster headaches.
Is Melatonin Safe?
Talk with your doctor about the effects and side-effects of melatonin before taking the hormone, whether it is prescribed or you plan on purchasing it as a supplement. In low doses, it should be completely safe to take, even for long-term use. However, there are certain situations where melatonin should not be taken, including for young children and pregnant or nursing women.
Melatonin has side effects, which include:
- Vivid dreams
- Lower body temperature
- Grogginess upon waking
- Minor changes in blood pressure
Overall, melatonin, when taken according to dosage instructions, is safe for adults with sleeping problems. Melatonin can be a safe, natural way to cure insomnia, treat jet lag, help restore disrupted sleep patterns, and a number of other disorders or sleep problems.
So if you and your doctor discuss melatonin and decide it fits with your situation, be sure to take it as prescribed. Do not plan on driving or doing anything different until you have taken the first dose and learned how the hormone affects you, as it can result in different side effects for different people. However, melatonin may be just what you need to wind down at the end of a busy day and simply sleep. Have a good night!