What is Melatonin?
You may have noticed that instead of a photograph of a fungus, we have a diagram of the anatomy of the human brain here. A photo might have been a bit too much. Melatonin doesn’t come from a fungus, it’s a hormone, and it is produced naturally in the human body by a tiny, pea-sized gland just above the middle of the brain called the pineal gland. Fortunately, it can also be found in plants and synthesized outside the human body. It can be found in tart cherries, bananas, plums, grapes, rice, cereals, herbs, and olive oil.
Legally, it is an uncontrolled substance, and is freely available to be purchased as a dietary supplement with no restrictions of any kind, and no need for a prescription.
The function of melatonin in the human body is to regulate sleep. Normally, our bodies make more melatonin at night, with levels increasing after sunset. Levels drop in the morning after sunrise. The amount of light you get each day helps to set your “body clock”, and this determines how much melatonin your body makes.
What is Melatonin good for?
Supplementing the melatonin your body makes is useful for trouble falling asleep or staying asleep. If you have a job that disrupts normal day/night sleep schedules, or otherwise have difficulty going to sleep at a time that would allow you to get a full sleep cycle, melatonin can be useful. Melatonin is also helpful if travel to different time zones interferes with your “body clock,” in other words jet lag.
How does Melatonin promote healthy sleep?
Chemically, melatonin is also known as N-Acetyl-5-methoxytryptamine.
Our eyes are the pathway for light, and when we see sunlight, the electrical signals travel through the optic nerves and signal the pineal gland within the brain to stop producing melatonin. When the eyes do not receive light, melatonin is produced by the pineal gland, and we become sleepy. This is one of the reasons that eye masks are also an effective sleep aid – in addition to blocking out visual stimuli, they have a physiological effect on the pineal gland.
The physical effects of melatonin, as subjectively reported by those taking it, typically include sedation and very mild muscle relaxation. Cognitively, users report sleepiness, reduced anxiety, and dream potentiation, meaning that they experiencing experience more dreams, longer dreams, and more vivid dreams.
A systematic review of the medical literature on the effectiveness of melatonin for in promoting healthy sleep was conducted in 2014. The result of this survey was the observation that although the study quality was generally high in terms of the rigor of the scientific method applied, these studies generally resulted in what the reviewers deemed weak recommendations were for using melatonin in preventing sleep phase shifts from jet lag, for improving insomnia in both healthy volunteers and individuals with a history of insomnia, and for initiating sleep and/or improving sleep efficacy.
Of note, melatonin is also being studied to see if it is helpful in the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis), and sleep problems in children with autism disorders.
Who should not take Melatonin?
There has been a lack of research on the safety of melatonin supplements in pregnant or breastfeeding women, so the safest option for those women is to avoid use.. The American Academy of Sleep Sciences recommended against the use of melatonin by people with dementia. Melatonin may stay active in the body longer in older people and cause daytime drowsiness.
For children, the National Institutes of Health have stated that melatonin supplements at normal doses appear to be safe, but notes that there aren’t many studies on children and melatonin.
Tree of Life Botanicals Products with Melatonin:
2 Evidence for the efficacy of melatonin in the treatment of primary adult sleep disorders; Sleep Medicine Reviews. 2017;34:10-22, Auld F, Maschauer EL, Morrison I, et al.
3 The effectiveness of melatonin for promoting healthy sleep: a rapid evidence assessment of the literature; Nutr J. 2014; 13: 106, Rebecca B Costello, Cynthia V Lentino, Courtney C Boyd, Meghan L O’Connell, Cindy C Crawford, Meredith L Sprengel, and Patricia.
4 Melatonin: What You Need To Know; NIH National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health; D. Craig Hopp, Ph.D., and David Shurtleff, Ph.D., NCCIH, reviewers. https://www.nccih.nih.gov/health/melatonin-what-you-need-to-know
5 Pharmacologic treatments for sleep disorders in children: a systematic review; Journal of Child Neurology. 2019;34(5):237-247, McDonagh MS, Holmes R, Hsu F.
6 Clinical practice guideline for the treatment of intrinsic circadian rhythm sleep-wake disorders: advanced sleep-wake phase disorder (ASWPD), delayed sleep-wake phase disorder (DSWPD), non-24-hour sleep-wake rhythm disorder (N24SWD), and irregular sleep-wake rhythm disorder (ISWRD). An update for 2015; Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine. 2015;11(10):1199-1236, Auger RR, Burgess HJ, Emens JS, et al
7 Potential safety issues in the use of the hormone melatonin in pediatrics; Journal of Paediatrics and Child Health. 2015;51(6):584-589, Kennaway D.
8 Melatonin in Patients with Reduced REM Sleep Duration: Two Randomized Controlled Trials. https://academic.oup.com/jcem/article/89/1/128/2840303