Contributed by Dori Cranmore RN, Holistic Health Practitioner
Melatonin in the natural form, is a hormone produced by the pineal gland in the brain, to help control your daily sleep-wake cycles.
Melatonin is used to reset the body’s internal clock, or circadian rhythm. This rhythm influences how much melatonin the pineal gland makes, along with the amount of light you are exposed to each day. Typically, melatonin levels start to rise in the mid-to-late evening, after the sun has set. They can stay elevated for most of the night while you’re in the dark. Then, they can drop in the early morning as the sun rises, causing you to awaken.
For the millions of people who have trouble falling and staying asleep, synthetic melatonin can sometimes be the solution. It is best used by people suffering from jet lag, working odd hours, and for helping blind people establish a day and night cycle. Other uses include breast cancer, brain cancer, lung cancer, prostate cancer, head cancer, neck cancer and gastrointestinal cancer. Melatonin is also used for some of the side effects of chemotherapy, including weight loss, nerve pain, weakness and a lowered number of clot-forming cells (thrombocytopenia). Studies are ongoing.
The proper dosage, according to a 2001 study from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, is 0.3 milligrams. The research was conducted by Richard Wurtman, who pioneered the pharmaceutical use of melatonin as a sleep aid in 1994. Pills and supplements often sell 10 times the suggested amount in a single dose. This can lead to higher plasma melatonin levels the next day, which can cause a “hangover” effect that leaves users groggy.
People commonly make the mistake of assuming that taking higher doses of melatonin will lead to better sleep. But the opposite is true: Too much taken at once can cause headaches, nausea, dizziness or irritability, all of which can disrupt your sleep. So talk to your doctor, who may suggest different dosage guidelines or another natural sleep aid.
The safety of melatonin taken by children is still uncertain. David Kennaway, the director of the circadian physiology lab at the University of Adelaide in Australia, he states there is “extensive evidence from laboratory studies that melatonin causes changes in multiple physiological systems, including cardiovascular, immune and metabolic systems, as well as reproduction in animals,” and its effects on children’s developing bodies is yet unstudied.
Melatonin supplements come in pill, liquid, chewable or lozenge forms, in doses ranging from one to 10 milligrams. For insomnia, it’s best to take a melatonin supplement 30 to 60 minutes before bedtime. That way, it can put you in the mood to snooze by the time you want to turn out your lights for the night. Keep in mind though, that melatonin supplements can negatively interact with many different medications; so be sure to check with your health care provider.
It is recommended to go to www.webmd.com if you are taking any prescription medication as melatonin interacts with a very long list of them.