Melatonin is a hormone that regulates sleep and circadian rhythms. Production of melatonin is related to the time of day and light exposure; melatonin levels are heightened in the evening and fall during the morning. The hormone is sold over-the-counter as a supplement, but the benefits and risks of melatonin are not completely known.
According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, melatonin is known to alleviate the symptoms of several sleep-oriented conditions, including:
When travelling across multiple time zones, fliers may experience disturbed sleep, fatigue and general discomfort. Research from eight clinical studies suggests that melatonin can ease these symptoms.
Delayed Sleep Phase Disorder (DSPD)
Those who suffer from DSPD have difficulty falling asleep before 2:00 AM, as well as trouble waking up in the morning. In 2007, the American Academy of Sleep Medicine began to recommend melatonin as a treatment for DSPD.
Shift Work Disorder
It can be difficult to sleep during the day for people who work third shift (between late afternoon and early morning). The American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommends taking melatonin before going to bed to improve daytime sleep.
In adults and children, research suggests that melatonin can reduce the time it takes to fall asleep, increase total sleep time and improve sleep quality. Both neurotypical children and those who exhibit signs of hyperactivity disorder, autism and other conditions benefit from melatonin use, with minimal short-term side effects.
There is not enough research to corroborate some perceived benefits of melatonin, but researchers are looking into additional applications of the hormone that may treat disorders unrelated to sleep.
As A Stress Reliever
When taken as directed, melatonin can fight the effects of stress on the body. It is important to note that melatonin should be taken prior to sleep, preferably at night.
To Alleviate Arthritis
Studies have indicated that melatonin may help inhibit inflammation caused by certain types of arthritis.
Prevention and Treatment of Breast Cancer
It has been suggested that melatonin is a natural anti-estrogen. Because high levels of estrogen are found in 50% of patients with breast cancer, there may be a correlation between the two. In a limited study, research found that melatonin treatment reduced the number and size of breast tumors and lowered the chances that the cancer would spread to the lungs.
Treatment for Mental Illnesses
Melatonin levels are often low in patients with major depressive disorder, panic disorder, bipolar disorder and seasonal affective disorder. Because melatonin is linked with an increase in serotonin levels, the hormone may be effective in lessening the symptoms of these conditions. However, melatonin treatment has been found to heighten mania in patients with bipolar disorder when experiencing a manic episode.
As An Antioxidant
The antioxidant properties of melatonin are well documented. Due to this characteristic, some speculate that melatonin could be useful in improving the functionality of the nervous, cardiovascular and gastrointestinal systems.
Is Melatonin Right For Me?
Melatonin has few short-term side effects, but the long-term effects of melatonin use are unknown. Melatonin may also interfere with some prescription drugs. Administration of melatonin is important, as well; taking the supplement in the morning or throughout the day may have negative effects. Before taking any supplements or homeopathic medicines, consult with your doctor.