You may have seen melatonin sold as supplements or even in snacks, such as brownies, but what is it and is it safe?
The University of Maryland Medical Center discuses that melatonin is a hormone found in the body that helps a person sleep. This hormone regulates your internal clock, also known as the circadian rhythm. Melatonin levels increase closer to nighttime, remain high during the night and then taper towards morning. People with low levels of melatonin may have difficulty sleeping. Melatonin also plays a role in regulating other hormones in the body.
There are many factors that effect melatonin production. WebMD discuses one factor, sunlight. Sunlight can prohibit the production of melatonin and lack of sunlight can increase melatonin. This makes it difficult for shift workers to sleep during the day. It may also contribute to seasonal depression in the winter, as melatonin levels remain higher longer with shorter days. It is also theorized that age plays a role in melatonin production. Children produce the most during the night and older adults the least, often causing aging adults to have difficulty sleeping.
Natural Ways to Alter Melatonin Production
If you have trouble sleeping falling asleep at night, try reducing the amount of sunlight you are exposed to in the evening. If you live in areas where the sun sets late during the summertime, close you blinds earlier and dim the lights. Less light may trigger your melatonin production, helping you to fall asleep faster. If you must sleep during the day, try to avoid sunlight and make your room as dark as possible.
Melatonin can be taken as a supplement to help with insomnia, but researchers are still studying its effectiveness and its long term side effects. Melatonin is also used to help people cope with jet lag and shift work. Dr. Brent Bauer of Mayo Clinic warns that taking melatonin supplements can cause daytime sleepiness, dizziness and headaches and should only be taken for short term periods. Melatonin can be purchased over the counter, but if you are considering using it to help you sleep, be sure and discuss it with your doctor first. Melatonin can have adverse or unknown reactions with other prescribed medications. If you are having trouble sleeping, melatonin may be a short term solution, but be aware that the medical community is still wary of its use and the supplements are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration.
Photo “Sleeping the Day Away” courtesy of Sasha Wolff