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Melatonin is a hormone naturally found in the brain in the pineal gland, which is affected by light. When there is an absence of light, the pineal gland secretes natural melatonin, which may make you sleepy.
Melatonin sleep aids are growing in popularity, with 3 million Americans using them in 2012, according to a nationwide survey from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. If you’re among them or are considering melatonin for sleep, it’s smart to understand exactly how melatonin works.
Ingesting melatonin causes some people to become sleepy. Studies show that melatonin is not only good for helping you sleep but it also has been found, in laboratory studies using rats and mice, to be an antioxidant, which can help slow the aging process. However, we do not know the long-term consequences of taking melatonin.
The concern with taking melatonin is that it is not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) because it is considered to be a food supplement and not a medication. By law, the manufacturers are only required to include the distribution address on the container, not the ingredients or how the melatonin was made.
Melatonin fulfills many functions in the body, but it is mostly known for maintaining circadian rhythms. The circadian rhythm is the body’s internal clock. It tells the body when to sleep, and when to wake.
In humans, the circadian “clock” is in the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) area of the brain. Using the daily pattern of light and dark, the SCN creates and maintains a regular sleep and wake cycle.
Information about light levels reaches the SCN and then passes to the pineal gland deep in the center of the brain. The pineal gland releases melatonin at night and blocks its release during daylight.
Some foods contain melatonin. It is also available as a supplement in pill or gummy form.
Side Effects Of Using Melatonin
side effects that do occur are generally mild, such as:
Children taking melatonin supplements may experience these side effects Trusted Source, along with bedwetting and irritability.
Melatonin is a natural hormone that appears to have only minor side effects. For this reason, researchers have tested it for use as a natural supplement in several medical conditions, including:
Natural melatonin lets the body know that it is time to sleep. Melatonin supplements have had varying success in treating sleep problems.
There is evidence that melatonin can believe trusted Source some headaches.
Some clinical studiesTrusted Source of colon, breast, renal, brain, and lung cancer suggest that melatonin might support cancer treatment when a person takes it alongside chemotherapy and radiation therapy.
Most doctors, healthcare providers, and other experts consider melatonin is generally safe. However, it can cause side effects when people take it in more than the recommended amounts.
|Children and teens||0.5 to 3 mg — or up to 6 mg for those with severe insomnia|
|Adults for jet lag||0.5 to 5 mg, taken several hours before the intended bedtime and continuing for several days after arrival at the destination|
|Adults for shift work||2–3 mg, taken at the end of a shift and before the intended bedtime, but never before driving home|
|Adults aged 55 and older||2 mg once daily for up to 13 weeks, take 1–2 hours before bedtime|
Symptoms of a melatonin overdose vary from person to person. In some people, taking too much melatonin can increase sleepiness. In others, it can have the opposite effect and produce a state of enhanced alertness.
Signs that a person has overdosed on melatonin include:
- a headache
- an upset stomach
- joint pain
Melatonin can lead to a spike in blood pressure if a person takes more than the recommended dose. If a person already has high blood pressure, they should check with a doctor before taking this product. People who take this supplement should report any unusual side effects to their doctor.
Is Melatonin Safe?
Melatonin appears to be safe for the short-term treatment of sleep issues. Its long-term safety is not as clear.
Whether melatonin is safe for an individual depends on their age and health.
Scientists have not done enough research to confirm whether it is safe for pregnant and breastfeeding women to take melatonin. Melatonin may cause daytime drowsiness in some older adults. Doctors do recommend it for people with dementia.
Is melatonin safe for children?
Often children can overcome sleep issues by sticking to it a consistent bedtime. For children who still have difficulties with sleeping, melatonin does appear to be safe for use in the short term.
When to take melatonin
It is essential to take melatonin at the correct time of day. Taking it too early or too late can alter a person’s biological clock and shift their sleep and wake times.
Taking melatonin may help with a few different health conditions, including:
- jet lag
- delayed sleep-wake phase disorder (DSWPD)
- sleep problems in children with attention-deficit
- hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and autism
- anxiety before and after surgery
One report suggests that melatonin may also provide the following benefits:
- protecting the heart by reducing blood pressure in people with insomnia
- having protective effects against cancer and enhancing the impact of cancer treatments
- reducing stroke damage
- reducing the damaging effects of obesity on the body by lowering inflammation
- slowing mental decline in people with dementia