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Melatonin is a
hormone made by the
pineal gland, a small gland in the brain. Melatonin helps control your sleep
and wake cycles. Very small amounts of it are found in foods such as meats,
grains, fruits, and vegetables. You can also buy it as a
body has its own internal clock that controls your natural cycle of sleeping
and waking hours. In part, your body clock controls how much melatonin your
body makes. Normally, melatonin levels begin to rise in the mid- to late
evening, remain high for most of the night, and then drop in the early morning
Light affects how much melatonin your body produces. During
the shorter days of the winter months, your body may produce melatonin either
earlier or later in the day than usual. This change can lead to symptoms of
seasonal affective disorder (SAD), or winter
Natural melatonin levels slowly drop with age. Some older adults make
very small amounts of it or none at all.
Melatonin supplements are sometimes used to treat
jet lag or sleep problems (insomnia). Scientists are also looking at other good uses for melatonin, such as:
most cases, melatonin supplements are safe in low doses for short-term and
long-term use. But be sure to talk with your doctor about taking them.
Children and pregnant or nursing women should not take melatonin without
talking to a doctor first.
Melatonin does have side effects. But
they will go away when you stop taking the supplement. Side effects
If melatonin makes you feel drowsy, do not drive or
operate machinery when you are taking it.
During health exams,
tell your doctor if you are taking melatonin. And tell your doctor if you are
having trouble sleeping (insomnia), because it may be related to a medical
In adults, melatonin is taken in doses from 0.2 mg to 20.0
mg, based on the reason for its use. The right dose varies widely from one
person to another. Talk to your doctor to learn the right dosage and to find
out if melatonin is right for you.
can buy melatonin supplements without a prescription at health food stores,
drugstores, and online. Melatonin should only be taken in its man-made form.
The form that comes from ground-up cow pineal glands is rarely used, because it
may spread disease.
The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine
(NCCAM) at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) explores complementary and
alternative healing practices in the context of rigorous science, trains
complementary and alternative medicine researchers, and gives out authoritative
The National Sleep Foundation, an independent nonprofit
organization, can provide you with brochures on sleep disorders and a list of
accredited sleep disorder clinics.
Other Works Consulted
Melatonin (2009). Review of Natural Products. St. Louis: Wolters Kluwer Health.
Rajaratnam SM, et al. (2009). Melatonin and melatonin analogues. Sleep Medicine Clinics, 4: 179–193.
June 20, 2012
Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine & Alfred Lewy, MD, PhD - Psychiatry
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