Melatonin-A Natural Sleep Aid
The Sleep Hormone that Regulates Circadian Rhythm
Melatonin has become known as the sleep hormone. It's produced in the pineal gland, which is a small pea sized gland located in the middle of the brain. The pineal gland is inactive during the daytime hours, but starts producing the sleep inducing hormone melatonin in the evening. The amount of melatonin produced varies by individual, but generally decreases with age.
Bright lights can disrupt normal production of melatonin, confusing your brain into thinking it's still daylight. The easiest way to boost melatonin production is to dim the lights an hour or so before bed.
Benefits of Melatonin
Beyond helping you fall asleep new research suggests melatonin benefits our bodies in many ways. The amount of this naturally occurring hormone produced by the pineal gland decreases with age.
The hormone is a powerful antioxidant that protects us on a cellular level from harmful free-radicals.
More and more studies are finding melatonin supplementation especially useful in treating and preventing neuro-degenerative diseases, specifically Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and stroke.
Melatonin also seems to help fight several types of cancer and may counteract the effects of chemotherapy.
Some research has shown regularly supplementing with melatonin decreases the number of migraines suffers experienced, and even the severity of attacks.
What dosage of Melatonin to Take
When used as a sleep aid the typical does of melatonin is 1-3 mg, taken about an hour before bed. The supplement comes in either pill or liquid form, and can be found in your local grocery store, health food stores and online. Some melatonin supplements are made for sub-lingual use, dissolved under the tongue, and are thought to take effect sooner. Other types come in a slow release formula so they not only help you fall asleep, but make sure you stay asleep for the entire night.
Besides just general sleeplessness or insomnia melatonin can benefit shift workers and those suffering from jet-lag, or anyone that finds themselves tired at the wrong time of day.
Is Melatonin Safe?
Since melatonin is naturally occurring, it is usually considered safe. Taking too much, or taking it at the wrong time can cause problems. Like any other medicine that causes drowsiness you shouldn't take it before driving. It's not advised to mix melatonin with other sedating drugs, like antihistamines and other sleep aids, or alcohol. Like many other medications, pregnant and breast-feeding moms shouldn't take it without talking to their doctor.
Melatonin is not thought to be addictive, but like any sleep aid, if you take it every night you might have problems falling asleep without it. Since it is relatively fast acting consider taking it only when it's really needed.
The most common side effects of Melatonin
- Morning sleepiness
- Feeling dizzy
- Vivid dreams
Melatonin can interact with some drugs
- Anticoagulants, like some blood thinners
- Medications that suppress the immune system
- Certain birth control pills
- Some diabetes medications
It's a good idea to check with your doctor before taking this, or any other supplement. I've taken melatonin supplements off and on for a few years. The only side effect I've ever experienced is the vivid dreams, but they weren't troublesome enough to stop taking it.
Foods that Contain Melatonin
If you would like to naturally increase your production of melatonin without resorting to taking pills there are many foods you can consume in the later part of the day.
- Sweet Corn
- Sunflower Seeds
When getting your melatonin from fruits and veggies, the fresher they are the better. Bananas and oatmeal also contain tryptophan, the natural precursor your body uses to make serotonin and melatonin.