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What is Melatonin?

By L. Hepfer
Updated May 17, 2024
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Melatonin is a natural hormone that is made by the pineal gland. The pineal gland is approximately the size of a pea and is located in the center of the brain. It helps regulate sleep cycles on a 24-hour basis, telling us when we are tired and need to go to sleep.

Melatonin is stimulated by darkness but is suppressed by light. This is why we tend to want to sleep at night and be awake during the day. This natural hormone controls the circadian rhythm in the body, making us feel tired and letting us know when it is time for sleep. Melatonin can easily be disrupted when there is a change in our schedule. Changing shifts at work can disrupt normal melatonin cycles as well as jet lag.

The timing and release of female reproductive hormones are controlled by these cycles. It determines when a woman's menstrual cycle begins and ends. Melatonin has also been related to the aging process in humans. The levels in our bodies are higher when we are younger and diminish over time as we age, causing disrupted sleep patterns in adults. This natural hormone also helps strengthen the immune system.

Supplements are readily available for people who would like to get back to a normal sleeping pattern the natural way. Studies have indicated there is a low chance of toxicity with taking melatonin supplements. The effect of taking these supplements can sometimes take a couple of weeks when taking on a daily basis and vary from person to person. This supplement can help stimulate cells that encourage bone growth and can help women who are going through menopause sleep regularly.

Certain studies have proven that melatonin can help alleviate depression and anxiety. It effects the serotonin levels in the body, making it stronger and lowering the effects of mild depression and sadness. Further studies have shown that people with heart disease, breast cancer, prostate cancer and rheumatoid arthritis tend to have lower levels of the hormone in their body. This hormone helps protect against sunburn, epileptic seizures, and can treat sarcoidosis, a condition where fibrous tissues develop in the lungs.

Supplements are available in many forms. They can be purchased as capsules, tables, creams and lozenges. The recommended dose varies from person to person on a case by case basis and should be discussed with your physician before adding this supplement to your daily regimen.

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Discussion Comments
By Potterspop — On Sep 06, 2011

I have found melatonin to be extremely useful when I fly long haul. It pretty much knocks me out and lets me sleep, or at least feel very relaxed through the whole ordeal!

As a nervous flyer I prefer to take melatonin rather than a synthetic drug. One time I remember half waking to an announcement apologizing for the turbulence. That I went straight back to sleep is proof of how well this works.

The only down side is that many countries don't allow you to buy melatonin over the counter. Great Britain is one, but there are many more. I don't know the reasons for that decision. Do you?

By geekish — On Sep 06, 2011

Wowza. I had no idea that melatonin did such an array of things and was a part of such important processes such as our immune system.

We were actually just talking about sleeping at work. Why is it that some people seem to need eight to nine hours of sleep and others only seem to need six hours?

Is this a melatonon deal or is that about another part of the body that is responsible for this?

I wish I could get away with sleeping for only six hours (oh the things I could get done); however, I do pretty good on seven hours of sleep and great on eight hours of sleep. At six hours, I am not usually functioning for hours after I wake up.

By OeKc05 — On Sep 05, 2011

My melatonin levels must be at the proper level, because I never have any trouble falling asleep. I have more trouble getting up, because I sleep so well.

I always get sleepy around 10 p.m. every night. On weekends, I have to force myself to make it past 10 p.m. if I want to stay up late. My body is so ready to sleep.

I am grateful for this, because I know how frustrating it can be to be tired and unable to sleep. My mother has to take melatonin supplements to regulate her levels, because she was only getting maybe three hours of sleep a night.

By wavy58 — On Sep 04, 2011

My boyfriend has suffered from irritable bowel syndrome for years. He nearly always felt bloated, and he would have frequent bowel movements. It was just an uncomfortable way to live.

He heard that melatonin supplements had been known to reduce irritable bowel symptoms. He decided to try it.

Within a few days of taking his first supplement, his bloating had gone down. Within two weeks, he was having normal bowel movements.

Though it hasn’t been approved as a treatment for IBS, it certainly worked for my boyfriend. Even if he has to take it for the rest of his life, he will.

By serenesurface — On Sep 03, 2011

@ysmina-- I think melatonin supplements are supposed to be taken late afternoon at the earliest. I read that our body utilizes melatonin in the evening and at night because that's when we're supposed to rest and sleep. It might not have worked for you for that reason, try taking it in the afternoon if you want to sleep early, or at evening (dinner time) if you want to sleep a little bit later (closer to midnight).

It might also be that 3mg is not enough for you. Some people need less than that and some need more. I think if you don't get results in the next week, definitely talk to your doctor before increasing the dose.

By ysmina — On Sep 03, 2011

I've started taking melatonin supplements for my sleeping problem but I don't think it has helped. I take a 3mg capsule in the morning once a day and I'm still unable to sleep till early morning. When I do sleep, I seem to be getting a lot of nightmares which never happened before I started taking melatonin.

I don't know if I should keep taking it for a little while longer, maybe it starts working slowly? If it doesn't improve my sleep cycles in the next week, I think I'm going to give up on it.

By LisaLou — On Sep 02, 2011

I have had good results using the herbs valerian and lavender when I have trouble sleeping. These come in a natural, sleep aid capsule and are not habit forming.

There are nights when I am physically tired, but my brain just won't stop working. If I take a couple capsules of these herbs about 30 minutes before I go to bed, my body and mind are much more relaxed and I fall asleep easier and stay asleep longer.

Reading a few minutes before going to sleep is also very helpful. My sister has had good results using melatonin. I know there are many kinds of sleeping remedies out there and it shouldn't be hard to find one that works good for you.

By SarahSon — On Sep 02, 2011

When I started having trouble sleeping at night, I found a natural sleep product that included melatonin.

Before this I had tried some over the counter sleep supplements, but always felt tired and groggy the next morning. The extra melatonin does help me relax so I can get to sleep easier and I don't wake up with that heavy feeling.

It is frustrating that I am at the point in my life where I don't have kids at home and should be able to sleep like a baby. Now that I have more time to get sleep, I can't get to sleep and never sleep through the night without waking up several times.

By Mykol — On Sep 01, 2011

I never thought I would get to the point where I couldn't sleep through the night. It used to be if I woke up in the middle of the night I would roll back over and know I had a few more hours of sleep.

Now I toss and turn and sometimes wonder if the morning will ever get here. I know this is very common as people age, and that there are several options I could try to get a better nights sleep.

I didn't want to start taking something that I became addicted to, so began looking for natural ways to help with my sleep problem.

I have always been good about taking nutritional supplements on a regular basis, so supplementation was the first thing I looked at.

Since melatonin is something our bodies produce naturally I decided to try some melatonin supplements. I still don't sleep as sound as I used to, but they have improved my quality of sleep enough, that I continue taking them.

By ElizaBennett — On Sep 01, 2011

@jennythelib - I've heard that about daylight. Indoor lights are not as bright as even a cloudy day! Most people will also sleep better if they get their bedroom really, really dark. Hide those digital clocks, invest in blackout drapes, etc.

The article mentions its impact on the menstrual cycle but doesn't go into detail. Apparently, the idea is that our ancestors would always have ovulated when the moon was full (the light at night would keep melatonin levels lower then).

I haven't tried it myself, but some women have had success regulating an irregular menstrual cycle by sleeping in complete blackness most of the month, then with a nightlight on for a few nights in the middle of the month - basically replicating the full moon effect.

By jennythelib — On Aug 31, 2011

There actually are some things you can do to regulate your melatonin levels without taking supplements. Everyone should to spend some time outside in the daylight and then keep the lights low in the evening. Better melatonin production, no side effects!

I read that melatonin is actually the reason why teenagers want to stay up so late. Non-teenagers start to produce melatonin as soon as the sun goes down, but in teenagers, the process is delayed by an hour and a half - so they really *can't* go to sleep at ten o'clock.

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