Supplement Spotlight: Melatonin

Melatonin is a hormone produced in the body that naturally regulates sleep cycles, signaling the body and brain when it’s time to go to sleep.  Melatonin production is stimulated by darkness and suppressed by light.  Natural melatonin production in the body is reduced by changes in schedules as well as late night exposure to artificial light, particularly computers, televisions, and cell phone screens.  Certain medications can further reduce the body’s melatonin levels; aspirin is one that many people take daily to prevent heart attacks, but aspirin also reduces melatonin levels in the body.

Melatonin can be taken as a supplement to help to adjust the body’s internal clock for people traveling and changing time zones, and for shift workers who’s schedule changes.  Melatonin also is useful for people suffering from insomnia.  Research has found that melatonin supplementation helps to reduce restlessness before sleep, and aids in correcting sleep patterns during sleep.

For people having trouble falling asleep, a sublingual form which dissolves in the mouth is best since it is absorbed the fastest.  For those who have trouble staying asleep and experience problems with waking up in the middle of the night, a time release form is superior.  Placebo controlled studies have found that supplementing with melatonin improved sleep quality, reduced the time it took to fall asleep, and also enhanced alertness in the morning.

A new study came out this March which was particularly interesting.  It reported that scientists in China found that supplementing with melatonin could help a person sleep better in a noisy environment.  The researchers found that melatonin provided longer and better sleep than compared to people who wore eye masks and earplugs.  The participants who took melatonin had decreased middle of the night awakenings when compared with the eye mask/earplug group.  The group who took melatonin had a significant improvement in sleep quality and were found to have increased REM sleep.

Melatonin is most effective when taken an hour before sleep.  In addition to being an effective sleep aid, melatonin is also a potent antioxidant, with even a greater range of effectiveness than vitamin C, E, or beta carotene.  For many people, a short time taking melatonin is sufficient to correct sleep dysfunction, though others may find benefit from prolonged supplementation.