What Is Melatonin?

At the heart of the sleep-wake cycle is the circadian rhythm that regulates many biological systems based on environmental cues. The circadian rhythm tells the body when to sleep and when to be awake based on the time of day, and it does this with the help of melatonin.

Melatonin is a compound found in almost all biological entities including plants and animals. In humans, it is produced by the pineal gland in the center of the brain. While the substance is circulating in the body all of the time, the amounts vary based on light levels in the environment. A person will have more melatonin in his or her body when it is dark than when it is light.

How Does Melatonin Work?

Melatonin only floods the body when the environment is dark. This is why overnight workers are able to stay awake in brightly-lit rooms even though it is technically night. The substance doesn’t directly cause a person to go to sleep, but does make him or her feel tired enough to go to bed.

Children typically produce more melatonin than healthy adults, and the amount secreted steadily declines with age. People with sleep problems usually have low levels of melatonin in their systems.

Using Melatonin to Treat Insomnia

The good news for people that suffer from insomnia is melatonin supplements can help you overcome your sleep problem. It is the standard method of treatment for delayed sleep phase syndrome, which is often misdiagnosed as primary insomnia. Taken a few hours before bed, melatonin helps adjust a malfunctioning circadian rhythm to make it easier for the person to fall asleep. Melatonin is also a natural antioxidant that boosts the immune system, protects the cells from damage by free radicals, and can prevent cancer.

Although melatonin is well tolerated by the majority of people who use it, headache and upset stomach have been reported as possible side effects.

More About Melatonin

Melatonin is the only hormone allowed to be sold without a prescription as a dietary supplement; mostly because it is found in many foods, but also because it is safe to use. Unfortunately, this means that the supplement is not regulated by the FDA. You must be careful that you get melatonin supplements from a trusted source and to follow the dosage instruction carefully to prevent an overdose.

We have reviewed several melatonin supplements and found a few we thought were effective at treating insomnia safely and without side effects. Click the link to read about the sleep aids we recommend.