Melatonin is a hormone that is widely available in supplement form. The hormone is naturally produced by your body and plays an important role in sleep. It helps regulate your sleep-wake cycle by signaling to your body when the time for sleep is approaching. Melatonin supplements can be effective for circadian rhythm disorders, including jet lag, shift work and delayed sleep phase.
When the night falls and it becomes dark, the brain’s pineal gland produces more melatonin. The hormone then signals the part of your brain that regulates your circadian rhythms and your body will prepare for sleep. Melatonin levels usually rise in the evening and remain high throughout the night. Levels then drop in the morning when it is time to be awake.
Light helps determine how much melatonin your body makes. During the wintertime the timing of melatonin production may change based on exposure to light. Age also impacts melatonin production. Many older adults produce and secrete little to no melatonin.
Forms of Melatonin
Melatonin supplements are widely available in most drugstores and nutrition retailers in pill form. A prescription is not needed to get melatonin supplements in the United States. Most products come in doses of 1 mg to 5 mg. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine states that melatonin supplements appear to be safe. There is no evidence of serious risks related to their use but the long-term effects are unknown. As a dietary supplement, melatonin can be marketed and sold without prior approval from the FDA. It is possible for the content of the supplement to differ from what is listed on the product label.
Snacks and beverages marketed as “relaxation” or “chill out” products containing various doses of melatonin along with other ingredients have become widely available in recent years. These products are not regulated by the FDA and are not guaranteed to be effective at certain doses, or combined with other hormones or ingredients.