Melatonin, also known 5-methocy-N-acetyltryptamine, is a natural hormone that we secrete from the pineal gland which resides inside our brain. This natural hormone increases when darkness comes and suppresses its release when it is light. It gives our body a natural process of becoming tired and actually helps us sleep at night. This is why we recommend that children not have night lights on at night or why someone who works nights and sleeps days needs complete darkness to sleep well. In that darkness, our body responds with the secretion of melatonin, helping us to achieve and maintain good sleep hygiene. Research trials show that melatonin does improve sleep and restores good sleep hygiene. (Brown, Gerbarg, & Muskin, 2009)
Melatonin is also effective in treating delayed sleep phase syndrome, insomnia in dementia, REM behavior disorder, insomnia in autistics, and jet lag. (Brown, Gerbarg, & Muskin, 2009) Melatonin gives us a natural clock for our bodies, helps regulate and release female reproductive hormones, affects the menstrual cycles and menopause and regulates our body temperature.
I wasn’t too familiar with this hormone until several years ago when I read Dr. Mehmet Oz and Dr. Michael Roizen’s book, You Staying Young: The Owner’s Manual for Extending Your Warranty. (Roizen, 2007) In this book the authors wrote about melatonin, its benefits, and how aging brings about a decline in melatonin production in our system. This is why older people often have difficulty sleeping. Drs. Oz and Roizen recommend that you add melatonin to your daily supplement regime as you get older. Since that time I have read more and more about the benefits of melatonin.
Melatonin as a supplement can be used as a sleep aid and has been known to increase vivid dreaming (Monson & Schoenstadt, 2008). It is considered a natural sleeping aid. Young and middle-aged adults usually produce about 5 to 25 micrograms of melatonin per night. Our brain is highest with this production between 2 am and 4 am. Sometimes, when people have low melatonin levels or levels that are mixed up with the higher levels during the day, sleep disorders can occur. Taking this supplement has been found to help replicate the natural rhythm which can help reestablish normal sleep patterns. (Monson & Schoenstadt, 2008) This supplement appears to be effective for treating various sleep disorders. It should be used until a regular sleep pattern is achieved.
It has been suggested that children who appear hyperactive may remain overstimulated, in the brainstem, so never get into the REM state, therefore never have “caught up” because their natural sleep rhythm is off. Heating milk (one cup) releases about 3 mcg. melatonin – which is one reason we give babies and young children warm milk. This may be helpful to ensure more restful sleep for the hyperactive child.
Other benefits include prevention of cluster or migraine headaches, treatment of cancer when used in combination with standard cancer treatment, prevention or treatment of Alzheimer’s disease, treatment of fibromyalgia and treatment of chronic fatigue syndrome. (Monson & Schoenstadt, 2008)
Melatonin is a powerful antioxidant strengthening the immune system. Therefore, it has shown to be helpful in preventing cancer and other conditions of aging such as Alzheimer’s disease. Melatonin has shown some evidence of providing cancer protection. This occurs through directly inhibiting tumor growth, affecting hormones that stimulate cancers and also helps prevent or lessen some of the side effects of chemotherapy. (Monson & Schoenstadt, 2008)
There is some evidence that melatonin may be helpful for preventing cluster headaches or migraine headaches. Why this is helpful is not really understood yet. But if you have this concern, you may want to research it further to see if melatonin might help you in this area.
When choosing to use this supplement, consumers should purchase it from mainstream companies with pharmaceutical-grade melatonin to ensure no impurities. Make sure that the manufacturer is reputable. Some products have the United States Pharmacopoeia (USP) seal which means that the product has been independently tested and is consistent with what the label states. Check with your pharmacist for recommendation on reputable manufacturers.
There are some warnings regarding the use of melatonin and as with all supplements, safety precautions need to be used. Melatonin may not be able to be used safely if you have depression, diabetes, seizures or epilepsy, liver disease, or any allergies. Talk to your health care provider if you are pregnant, thinking of becoming pregnant or breastfeeding and to ensure your safety with regard to using this supplement and any interaction with other drugs that could be a potential concern.
Overall, I suggest if you are intrigued with this information, you do some research and talk to your physician to see what the potential outcome might be for you. I have seen it be very effective with numerous people. When we sleep well, life overall seems much brighter and hopeful.
Brown, R., Gerbarg, P., & Muskin, P. (2009). How to Use Herbs, Nutrients and Yoga in Mental Health Care. New York: W. W. Norton & Compnay, Inc.
Monson, K., & Schoenstadt, A. (2008, July 11). Melatonin. Retrieved April 5, 2010, from eMedTV.
Roizen, D. M. (2007). You Staying Young: The Owner’s Manual for Extending Your Warranty. New York: Free Press.
Tags: melatonin benefits, sleep aid melatonin
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker
Licensed Independent Mental Health Practitioner
- Janie Pfeifer Watson, LICSW, is the founder and director of Wholeness Healing Center, a mental health practice in Grand Island, Nebraska with remote sites in Broken Bow and Kearney. Her expertise encompasses a broad range of areas, including depression, anxiety, attachment and bonding, coaching, couples work, mindfulness, trauma, and grief. She views therapy as an opportunity to learn more about yourself as you step more into being your authentic self. From her perspective this is part of the spiritual journey; on this journey, she serves as a mirror for her clients as they get to know themselves—and, ultimately, to love themselves.
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