Melatonin, also known as N-acetyl-5-methoxytryptamine, is promoted as a natural sleep aid; however, it’s a hormone produced in the pineal gland in the brain from serotonin and by cells in the gastrointestinal tract. It modulates circadian rhythm and seasonal sleep-wake cycles as well as acts as a strong antioxidant. In many countries melatonin is a prescription medication due to its status as a hormone and biological effects. Overuse and misuse is common in countries where it is regulated as a dietary supplement.
Melatonin levels naturally fluctuate in response to bright light with levels increasing with less light and decreasing in response to more light. It moderately reduces sleep latency, the time it takes to fall asleep, but does not significantly increase sleep time in the majority of people, though sustained release formulas may increase sleep time by up to two hours. As a sleep aid, supplemental melatonin is most effective for people with diagnosed sleep-wake cycle disorders, those with vision loss, those who work second and third shifts, those suffering from jet lag, and children with autism spectrum disorders. As an antioxidant, melatonin is most effective for inflammatory disorders. Clinical trials on patients with Alzheimer’s disease, autoimmune diseases, diabetes, eczema, fibromyalgia, and migraine noted reduced symptoms of anxiety, disordered sleep, dry and itchy skin, pain, and headache frequency as well as lower cortisol levels. The major exception is rheumatoid arthritis, where supplemental melatonin increased pro-inflammatory factors rather than reduced them. Based on several small clinical trials, melatonin may also decrease gastrointestinal symptoms in those with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), stomach ulcers, and functional dyspepsia.
Side-effects may include daytime drowsiness, dizziness, headache, nausea, and reduced body temperature. Contraindications include anticoagulant and antiplatelet medications, sedatives, and rheumatoid arthritis. It may interact with some blood pressure medications, increasing blood pressure rather than lowering it. Long term use may increase risk of bone fractures due to melatonin’s effects on sex hormones. Children should not be given melatonin without the supervision of a knowledgeable health practitioner.
Standard dosage for sleep issues is 0.5-3mg taken 30-60 minutes prior to desired sleep time as needed. Because it is a hormone, supplemental metatonin should not be taken daily. Standard dosage for inflammatory diseases is 5-10mg taken before bed. Lower dosage when it causes morning drowsiness or “hangover” feeling.
Disclaimer: The content herein is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. It is not meant to diagnosis, cure, or treat any medical condition. Always consult a physician or other qualified healthcare provider with questions regarding a medical condition and before starting new diets and dietary supplements. Not all diets or supplements are appropriate for all people or all health conditions.