Know Your Nutrients–Melatonin
Know Your Nutrients—Melatonin
by Amanda Hawkinson
What is Melatonin? Melatonin is a hormone made by the pineal gland, a small gland in the brain. It helps control your sleep and wake cycles. Minute amounts of it can be found in foods such as meats, grains, fruits, and vegetables.
The amount of melatonin your body makes is carefully regulated by your body’s “master clock.” 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 hours.
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 depression.
Unfortunately, natural melatonin levels slowly drop with age. Some older adults make very small amounts of it or none at all.
Currently, supplemental melatonin is used to treat jet lag or sleep problems, such as insomnia. Scientists are also looking at other good uses, such as:
- Treating seasonal affective disorder (SAD).
- Helping to control sleep patterns for people who work night shifts.
- Preventing or reducing problems with sleeping and confusion after surgery.
- Reducing chronic cluster headaches.
It has been suggested that, when taken as a supplement, melatonin can stop or slow the spread of cancer, make the immune system stronger, or slow down the aging process. However, more research is needed to verify these claims.
Melatonin is considered safe in low doses for short and long-term use. Children and pregnant or nursing women should not take melatonin without talking to a doctor first.
Side effects may include:
- Lower body temperature.
- Vivid dreams.
- Morning grogginess.
- Small changes in blood pressure.
Important notes: 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 problem.