What is melatonin?
Melatonin is a hormone naturally produced by the body in response to darkness. A control center in the hypothalamus handles signaling related to processes that make us feel sleepy or awake, and when it’s dark (and only when it’s dark), the control center tells the pineal gland to produce melatonin. Natural melatonin production decreases with age, and people who have trouble sleeping are typically low in melatonin.
Should I take a melatonin supplement?
Study results are mixed regarding the effectiveness of melatonin as a sleep aid, and for its use in the treatment of all sorts of other physical and mental issues. It’s recommended that if you try it, you use it as a short-term supplement, for up to two months. The most common side effects are daytime sleepiness, dizziness, and headaches; there have been no reports of overdoses or toxicity.
Warnings: Melatonin could interfere with lots of different medications, so talk to your doctor if you’re medicating. It is the only hormone approved for sale in the US, and it is sold as a supplement, so it’s not regulated. Choose commercial supplements made in a lab, as those made from animal sources could contain contaminants.