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Melatonin, Does It Help Us Sleep?

Aug 17, 2007
The hormone melatonin has been credited with almost magical abilities from improving sleep to preventing osteoporosis, arthritis and other disabilities that are related to aging.

Can melatonin perform all these wondrous feats? Melatonin has a direct effect on sleep, certainly, but most of the other benefits are due to Serotonin, from which melatonin is formed.

Should we be taking melatonin supplements then? No Most people already have sufficient melatonin in their bodies.

Melatonin is a hormone that is manufactured by a small gland located near in the centre of the brain called the pineal gland. One of the major functions of melatonin is to control the "circadian rhythm" that 24 hour body clock that controls when we feel sleepy among other things. This is because melatonin release is stimulated by darkness and suppressed by strong light. And this is where the problems lie for some of us.

Shift workers in particular have a raw deal here. They have to sleep during the day when melatonin levels are low and have to wake up and work at night, they are virtually working against their natural circadian rhythms.

Frequent travellers have a similar problem. Changing time zones often can completely confuse the body clock and can have a chronic effect on sleep patterns.
Women going through menopause can experience hormonal fluctuation and hence a messed up body clock (I speak here from personal experience!) Elderly people may be lacking in melatonin as the production of this hormone decreases with age.

Even just having the light on at night can affect melatonin release. Our ancestors used to go to bed when darkness fell and wake up with the sunrise, it's a safe bet those guys never suffered with insomnia!

How do you know when your body clock is our of whack?

Simple, you'll take ages to wake up in the morning and you won't feel sleepy at night. You'll probably feel half alive during the day too waking up properly when it's bed time!

Can we reset our body clocks by taking melatonin?

Some people have had good results by taking melatonin directly, others have noticed no benefit whatsoever (including me!) If you're an older person or a shift worker, melatonin may be the way to go. For younger people I would say probably not,(there's no harm in trying it however)

If you're thinking of taking melatonin, start with a low dose (1 mg) and work up to 3 mg. If this doesn't work it probably means lack of melatonin isn't the problem and you're better off trying something else.
The main problem with melatonin is that no on can tell us what the ideal dose is. There are tests going on now, but long term results are unknown as are effects on pregnant women.

And if you're thinking of adding to your family soon, give melatonin a miss as it can act as a mild contraceptive.

What's better than taking melatonin?

A better way to go would be to stimulate melatonin release naturally by eating tryptophan rich foods (turkey, bananas, milk, eggs...) These form serotonin in the body. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter and a precursor for melatonin. For melatonin production to work properly, serotonin must be present.

This is how it works: tryptophan forms serotonin which converts to melatonin. Tryptophan is freely available in certain countries and on prescription in others. This can be an option if you can't eat dairy or are a vegetarian.

Another great way to stimulate melatonin levels is to get enough sunlight during the day, especially in the morning. For locations without a lot of natural daylight, or for shift workers, lighboxes may be purchased. This is a most effective way to ensure your body clock is properly set.

In conclusion melatonin is very necessary for our well being, but direct supplementation doesn't work for many. If you suspect your melatonin levels are low, consult a sleep specialist or try the suggestions in this article.
About the Author
Wendy Owen is a health researcher, writer and creator of

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