The pineal gland, a small gland in the brain, makes a hormone called Melatonin. This helps control your sleep and wake cycles. You can find very small amounts of it in foods such as meats, grains, fruits and vegetables and can also buy it as a supplement.
We all have our own internal clock within our body that controls our natural cycle of sleeping and waking hours. This body clock controls how much melatonin our body makes. Our melatonin levels normally begin to rise in the mid- to late- evening and then remain high for most of the night. Then it drops in the early morning hours. How much melatonin our body produces is also affected by light. When the days are shorter during the winter months, the body may produce melatonin either earlier or later in the day than usual and can lead to symptoms of seasonal affective disorder (SAD), or winter depression. Our natural melatonin levels slowly drop with age and some older adults make very small amounts of it, or none at all.
Some supplements are used to treat jet lag or sleep problems and other good uses are:
- Treating seasonal affective disorder
- Helping to control sleep patterns for those who work night shifts
- Preventing or reducing problems with sleeping and confusion after surgery
- Reducing chronic cluster headaches
Please remember, you do not want to play with your hormones. Melatonin supplements are safe in low doses for short-term and long-term use, but be sure to talk with your doctor about taking them. Too much melatonin can actually cause a pineal tumor. Melatonin supplements should not be taken by children and pregnant or nursing women, without consulting a doctor first.
There are some side effects that will go away when you stop taking the supplement such as:
- Lower body temperature
- Vivid dreams
- Morning grogginess
- Small changes in blood pressure
Do not drive or operate machinery when you are taking melatonin if it makes you feel drowsy. Tell your doctor if you are taking melatonin during health exams and let him know if you are having trouble sleeping. It may be related to a medical problem.
Melatonin in adults should be taken in doses from 0.2 mg to 9 mg, based on the reason for its use. The dosage will vary widely from one person to another so talk with your doctor to get the right dosage and to find out if melatonin is right for you. These supplements can be purchased without a prescription at health food stores, drugstores and online, and should be taken only in its man-made form.
Dr Fredda Branyon