Melatonin is a naturally occurring hormone produced by the pineal gland in the brain that helps regulate the sleep cycle. Normally, melatonin levels begin rising in the mid to late evening and remain high through most of the night. This increase in melatonin is what facilitates sleep. Melatonin levels tend to drop in the early morning hours, as brighter light contributes to a decrease in melatonin production.
The amount of melatonin present in the body is also relative to age. Children have the most melatonin, while those over sixty-five seem to have less.
The first and foremost benefit of melatonin is the regulation of the sleep cycle. However, there are additional benefits. Melatonin has been proven to increase memory and the ability to learn quickly. Besides being a powerful antioxidant, it promotes anti-aging, serves as an anti-depressant and aids in regulating sexual dysfunction.
There are also several benefits in taking melatonin supplements. Taking as little as a 3mg dosage of melatonin fifteen minutes prior to bedtime may help you fall asleep more quickly. Many people have used melatonin to overcome jet lag as well.
Those attempting to reduce their dependency upon medications such as valium or Xanax may benefit from this hormone. Melatonin usage has been shown to slow cancer growth, especially breast cancer, and increase the benefits of chemotherapy drugs such as tamoxifen.
Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) may be treated with melatonin. It has been shown to benefit those working night shifts, reduce problems with sleeping after surgery and reduce chronic cluster headaches.
With all the benefits of melatonin, there are some side effects that may manifest. Because sleepiness generally occurs with the usage of melatonin, care should be taken in operating heavy machinery. Usage may affect blood flow and lower body temperature, cause stomach problems, headaches, grogginess in the morning and nightmares.
Other side effects may include stomach cramps, dizziness, irritability, decreased libido and sperm count. Some people have found that depression has been exacerbated with the use of melatonin.
Possible drug interactions may arise with the use of this hormone. Negative interactions may appear if taken with antidepressants, anti-psychotic medications, some blood pressure medicines, blood thinners and medications that affect the immune system. However, melatonin may have positive interactions with beta blockers, tamoxifen and interleukin-2.
Although melatonin can be very effective in helping to regulate the sleep cycle and can have many positive effects, it is always a good idea to consult with your doctor before you take this or any other medication or supplement.