Melatonin, a hormone produced by the pineal gland in the brain, helps control sleep and wake cycles, essentially the internal clock in our body. It plays a role in regulating our natural wake-sleep cycle (circadian rhythm), with levels of melatonin increasing as exposure to light decreases, and decreasing as light exposure increases.
Researchers have studied the impact of melatonin on a wide variety of conditions, in doses ranging from 0.1 to 80 milligrams and in study lengths ranging from days up to three years. Melatonin is generally regarded as safe (GRAS) in doses up to five milligrams daily for up to two years.
Regarding sleep, researchers have studied the impact of melatonin on a wide variety of sleep disturbances. Here are a few of the findings:
- Jet Lag – In several human studies, researchers found that melatonin supplementation reduces the number of days needed to establish a normal sleep pattern. Travelers took melatonin on the day of travel (close to the target bedtime of the destination) and for several days thereafter. Looking at several studies on the impact of melatonin and jet lag, melatonin seemed to provide benefit for about half the people studied.
- Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome (DSPS) – This is the scientific term for delayed weekend sleep pattern, or the difficulty that many people experience each Sunday night trying to get back onto their “weeknight” sleep schedule after staying up much later on Friday and Saturday night. One study showed the time taken to fall asleep was reduced from almost 60 minutes to a few seconds over 20 minutes.
- Insomnia in the Elderly – Several human studies have found that taking melatonin before bedtime reduces the time it takes to fall asleep in elder individuals with insomnia. Improved sleep quality and morning alertness were also found. Unfortunately, the studies were short in duration.
Melatonin is typically taken 30 to 60 minutes before bedtime. Unlike many prescription sleep aids, melatonin doesn’t increase drowsiness or have a “hangover” effect the following day. However, there have been reports of vivid dreams. Because melatonin is a hormone, testosterone and estrogen metabolism may be affected. For this same reason, women who are pregnant or couples who are attempting to conceive should not take melatonin.
Diabetics, those with low-blood pressure (naturally or through medications) and individuals taking warfarin or other blood thinning medications should talk with their physician before taking melatonin.
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Jill Turner is VP Operations for Cooper Concepts, the company that markets Cooper Complete nutritional supplements. Email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or call 972-560-3262 with your questions and comments regarding supplements.