I'm a dental hygienist, pyrography artist, avid gardener, writer, vegetarian, world traveler, and many other things!
Melatonin is a natural hormone produced by the pineal [pie-NEEL] gland in the brain. The pineal gland resembles the shape of a pinecone, for which it was named. It's about the size of a kernel of corn, and sits exactly in the middle of the brain.
The tiny pineal gland is the first to be formed in the body, and is responsible for producing melatonin. Melatonin is needed for restorative sleep and dreams, and has a hand in setting the body's circadian rhythm ("internal clock.")
As we age, our natural melatonin production decreases, and some people don't produce enough to begin with. This article will discuss some of the benefits of having the correct amount of melatonin each night via supplements:
- Superlative natural sleep aid
- Superlative remedy for jet lag
- Boosts the immune system
- Most potent, versatile antioxidant
- Helps maintain a healthy heart
- Helps treat and prevent cancer
- Increases longevity
- Other uses
- Side effects and dosage
1. Superlative Natural Sleep Aid
The pineal gland produces the hormone melatonin every night. In the daylight the next morning, the melatonin is dissolved by its reaction with the light.
You are left feeling perfectly rested and restored, with no grogginess or other "druggy" effects. Since you are using your body's natural sleep molecule, it works with the body naturally and efficiently.
Melatonin starts to work relatively quickly--within half an hour of taking it. And you'll know when it's working because you will become very sleepy and sleep will become irresistible.
My way of describing what melatonin sleep is like is this. Imagine going on a dusty hike in sweltering hot weather carrying a 45-pound frame pack for about 20 miles up huge hills and down huge valleys all day long. Imagine how tired and ready for sleep you'll be after pitching tent and building a fire.
- That's kind of what melatonin feels like. Your body is so, so relaxed, comfortable, and ready to rest that it just naturally goes right into it
2. Superlative Remedy for Jet Lag & Shift Work
Jet lag is one of the worst parts of long-distance travel. Anyone who has experienced it has probably not forgotten what a drag it was.
Basically you are going from one time zone to something completely different. Let's say you left in the daytime and got there 24 hours later, so it should be daytime, right?
But you've flown halfway around the world and now it's deep night.
Your body's rhythm is set to think it's day, and that can really make you feel weird. Everything gets messed up before it can correct ("recalibrate") itself. It can take a week or two under normal circumstances.
It resets your body's circadian rhythm ["internal clock"] and cuts the number of days you suffer from jet lag by half
— RJ Reiter, PhD.
That's where melatonin comes in. I've flown 8,000 miles over the Atlantic Ocean many, many times, and one thing I can tell you for sure is that melatonin was the answer to my prayers--once I found out about it.
In addition to jet lag, melatonin works equally well for people who are doing shift work. Melatonin will help you to sleep restfully, will restore your energy, and will regulate your circadian rhythm.
Shift work, as anyone knows who has worked shifts, begins to take an enormous toll on your body. When it comes down to it, our bodies aren't meant to change their cycles, but to rise with the sun and go to sleep when the sun goes down.
Disrupting this natural rhythm can cause illness, sleeplessness, and a feeling as if you're a zombie. Melatonin successfully relieves these symptoms and helps get your body the rest it needs.
3. Boosts the Immune System
As anyone who has been stressed probably knows, stress hormones like cortisol can rapidly start to affect your health and immune system.
I know that in college/university when things got really stressful I'd be okay for a while, but if it went on and on, I'd almost always catch a cold or whatever was going around at the time.
What does this have to do with melatonin? Well, melatonin actually buffers the effects of stress, and plays a vital role in the immune system.
In fact, in various studies conducted by Georges Maestroni throughout the 1980s (when melatonin research was still somewhat new), he decided to remove the pineal glands of various animals and see what would happen.
- When the animals' pineal glands were removed, their thymus gland would always shrivel up and disappear. The thymus gland is absolutely essential for immune response. What he determined was that the pineal and thymus glands are inseparable when it comes to immune response
So, have I noticed a change since taking melatonin every night for the past year? Absolutely; in both myself and my dad. Sick less often (and under the same amount of stress), and the length of any illness is definitely diminished.
Not only that, but it makes you feel better overall, and you have more energy. It's a very restoring molecule.
4. Most Potent, Versatile Antioxidant
Every cell in your body is vulnerable to the attack of free radicals, and every cell in your body is protected by melatonin
— RJ Reiter, PhD.
Any atom or molecule with an unpaired electron is unstable, and will destroy other molecules in order to become stable (gain its electron).
This could entail the destruction of vital enzymes and the genetic code (DNA) itself.
I probably don't need to mention that when rogue molecules are going around destroying perfectly good and often critical molecules, bad things can happen!
According to Dr. Reiter and other members of his team at the University of Texas Health Sciences Center, after conducting experiments on melatonin as an antioxidant, they were amazed at what they found.
After years of research they concluded that melatonin is the most potent and versatile antioxidant known to exist. This is excellent news for the future of medicine, and for you!
5. Helps Maintain a Healthy Heart
There was a 10-20% reduction in cholesterol across the board
— James W. Anderson, MD
Yes, folks, you're in luck. Melatonin actually decreases LDL ("bad") cholesterol. It reduces the oxidation of LDL cholesterol, which then prevents it from forming plaques on artery walls. A study done in 1995 and published in the Lancet found that "people with healthy hearts were producing five times as much melatonin as those with diseased hearts" (RJ Reiter.)
Melatonin also decreases blood pressure. In a study using melatonin-based birth control pills, out of the 1,400 women tested, "there was a 10-20% reduction in cholesterol across the board" (James W. Anderson, MD.)
At night when we're sleeping (and when the majority of our melatonin is produced), our platelets become "less sticky." In a study where blood platelets were suspended in a melatonin solution, "the hormone reduced their tendency to clump by as much as 85 percent" (RJ Reiter.)
6. Helps Treat and Prevent Cancer
As early as the late 1800s and early 1900s, a number of medical doctors were already giving ground-up pineal extracts to cancer patients
— RJ Reiter, PhD.
Could the increase in cancers as we age correlate with our decrease in melatonin production?
Many studies over the last century had found there was "some" ingredient in the pineal gland that appeared to prevent and even treat / cure cancer.
They didn't realize until the 1960s that the substance is melatonin, and they are finding more and more information about its positive properties even today.
- According to RJ Reiter, PhD., the similarity between breast cancer and prostate cancer is that people who have these diseases also have "unusually low levels of melatonin"
In addition to these types of cancers, many other types have been tested, and all came up with similar results: Melatonin is a great tool in cancer treatment and prevention.
7. Increases Longevity
In 1985 Georges Maestroni and two colleagues began a study involving melatonin and over 750 mice. The mice were split into two groups, given the same exact housing and food; the only difference was that one set received trace amounts of melatonin in their drinking water.
After all the mice had died (this was after all a study on aging), scientists made an amazing discovery: "The mice that had been given the melatonin nightcaps had lived an average of 931 days--a 20 percent increase in lifespan" (RJ Reiter.)
Ways in which melatonin may increase longevity:
- It scavenges free radicals (which lead to cancer, Alzheimer's, arthritis, autoimmune diseases, etc.)
- It gives us a youthful pattern of sleep, repair, and restoration
- It helps stabilize our circadian rhythm and keeps biological cycles in tune
- It boosts the immune system
- It decreases LDL cholesterol, blood pressure, platelet aggregation, and heart disease
8. Other Uses
- Treatment of HIV / AIDS*
- To counteract toxicity of chemotherapy
- To counteract radiation from x-rays
- Treatment / prevention of PMS
- Treatment of bipolar disorder*
- Treatment of schizophrenia*
- Treatment of chronic pain*
- Treatment of seasonal affective disorder (SAD)*
- Helps speed metabolism, assisting in weight loss*
- Increases sexual vitality via increased sex hormones
[*] In conjunction with other methods.
9. Side Effects and Dosage
"There have been no reported cases of acute toxicity from melatonin. The doses that have been ingested have caused blood levels a hundred thousand times higher than naturally occurs" (Robert Sack, MD.)
Melatonin is nontoxic. The only detrimental reaction may be increased tiredness, but if you take it when you're supposed to (30 minutes before sleep), there should be no problem. Other than that, scientists have found it completely safe and natural. After all, our own body makes and uses it extensively.
- For sleep: 0.2-10 mg
- Jet lag: 1-10 mg
- Anti-aging: 0.1-3 mg
- Shift work: 1-5 mg
- Immune stimulation: 2-20 mg
Melatonin should be taken at night 30 minutes before wanting to actually turn the light out and sleep. Light destroys melatonin, so after taking it, be sure to stay in the dark and only use muted nightlights in the bathroom, etc. If you do feel groggy in the morning, look at a bright light or the sun for a few minutes and it will vaporize the melatonin.
Synthetic melatonin supplements come in a range of potencies. I have found that 3 mg is just about right for me.
Look for: third-party certified melatonin, 3 mg (adjust dosage up or down from this base point), time-release (acts more like our natural hormone), reputable brand ("Schiff," "Source Naturals," etc.)
© 2011 Kate P
casey on July 21, 2014:
Shut up, melatonin works for sleep, its good stuff, period .
Appleseed1 from Pelham, New York on July 20, 2012:
Lab studies don't follow through to the real world. You have probably figured that out for yourself.
Kate P (author) from The North Woods, USA on July 19, 2012:
Appleseed1, With all due respect, I have quoted two highly-regarded, peer-reviewed scientific studies published in renowned scientific journals (Journal of Pineal Research & Journal of Molecular Medicine.)
You have quoted "Dr. Oz," a television star, and "Psychology Today," a magazine, and you appear to be relying on them to substantiate your claims.
I think that pretty much sums it up. Thanks again for stopping by to express your opinions, but I will stick to the scientific proofs.
Appleseed1 from Pelham, New York on July 19, 2012:
Again, I wonder the dosage you take and if it's nightly. In the supplement industry where I worked, the people who took it nightly have to constantly keep increasing the dose until it is no longer effective. Your article makes it sound like the most amazing thing and everyone should take it everynight. Here are two bits you might want to take into consideration.
The problem I have with your studies is they are not long term studies and don't declare the type of melatonin used, animal, plant or synthetic. What I have come across, in the real world, dealing with real people, taking typical over the counter melatonin only proved to cause more harm in the long run.
Kate P (author) from The North Woods, USA on July 18, 2012:
Journal of Pineal Research Volume 34, Issue 1, pages 75–78, January 2003. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1034/j.1600-...
"Several characteristics of melatonin distinguish it from a classic hormone such as its direct, non-receptor-mediated free radical scavenging activity. As melatonin is also ingested in foodstuffs such as vegetables, fruits, rice, wheat and herbal medicines, from the nutritional point of view, melatonin can also be classified as a vitamin. It seems likely that melatonin initially evolved as an antioxidant, becoming a vitamin in the food chain, and in multicellular organisms, where it is produced, it has acquired autocoid, paracoid and hormonal properties."
Mol Med. 2009 Jan-Feb; 15(1-2): 43–50. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC258254...
"A very large body of evidence indicates that melatonin is a major scavenger of both oxygen- and nitrogen-based reactive molecules (49–53), including ONOO?(54–56). Melatonin has scavenging actions at both physiologic and pharmacologic concentrations. Not only melatonin but also several of its metabolites can detoxify free radicals and their derivatives (57–59). Studies also reveal that melatonin eliminates the decomposition products of ONOO?, including OH•, NO2•, and the carbonate radical (CO3•?) in the presence of physiological carbon dioxide concentrations (60–62). Melatonin also supports several intracellular enzymatic antioxidant enzymes, including SOD and glutathione peroxidase (GSH-Px) (63,64). Moreover, melatonin induces the activity of ?-glutamylcysteine synthetase, thereby stimulating the production of another intracellular antioxidant, glutathione (GSH) (65). A number of studies have shown that melatonin is significantly better than the classic antioxidants in resisting free-radical–based molecular destruction. In these in vivo studies, melatonin was more effective than vitamin E (66–68), ?-carotene (69), and vitamin C (69–71), and superior to garlic oil (72). Beneficial antioxidant effects of melatonin have been recently shown in clinical settings for several chronic diseases, including patients with rheumatoid arthritis (73), elderly patients with primary essential hypertension (74), and females with infertility (75)."
appleseed1 on July 18, 2012:
faceless: The most recent study cited is the RJ Reiter which was published in 2002, 10 years ago! The others are far older than that. Claiming that melatonin is the "most potent antioxidant known to science" that may have been true 10 years ago and the study didn't differentiate between whether they were referring to supplemental melatonin or melatonin produced naturally by the body. Try Glutathione, L-Carosine or even Superoxide dimutase (SOD) if you want a strong antioxidant.
By hooked I mean your body is no longer producing its own melatonin, therefore you have to increase your dose of supplemental melatonin in order to fall asleep and stay asleep.
When you start messing with your body's hormones you can cause more damage than good.
I wonder how long you have been using melatonin yourself and at what dose? Do you take it every night?
Kate P (author) from The North Woods, USA on July 18, 2012:
Melatonin used as medicine is usually made synthetically in a laboratory; therefore, it is a drug.
As noted in the melatonin books written by medical doctors (in the dark blue box above), many people cannot produce enough melatonin naturally; hence the supplements.
You cannot get "hooked" on melatonin; it is literally physiologically impossible. There is no "tolerance," and therefore no need to increase your dose.
As noted above in the article, it's the Most Potent Antioxidant known to science.
Thanks for stopping by and posting a comment, but unfortunately your claims are unsubstantiated.
Appleseed1 from Pelham, New York on July 18, 2012:
Melatonin is not a wonder drug it's a hormone! The US is the only country to sell it over the counter because it messes up your own production of melatonin. If you want your body to produce more, make sure your bedroom is completely dark. If you're already hooked on melatonin you'll notice you have to increase the dose for it to become effective until you eventually can't sleep anymore. Take as low of a dose as possible people!
Kate P (author) from The North Woods, USA on May 31, 2012:
Thanks for all the great comments everyone! I love reading them.
Michael (Molometer), I'm so pleased that you tried melatonin and that it's helped you sleep! And it's so nice of you to come back and let us know.
I've noticed that when I forget my melatonin at night, I tend to toss and turn and don't feel refreshed in the morning. When I take melatonin I feel great the next day. Not to mention all the additional benefits. I agree; it really is a natural wonder drug!
Micheal from United Kingdom on May 31, 2012:
Hi Faceless 39,
Just had to come back and let you know how things are progressing. I have been taking Melatonin now for 2 months and can honestly say. I have never slept so well in my whole life. It really is a natural wonder drug. Thanks again for sharing this useful information. Votes all the way.
Curiad on May 30, 2012:
Thank you for this information Faceless39!
Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on March 04, 2012:
I knew nothing of melatonin until last year when I found myself working the graveyard on a temporary job..my sleep patterns were so upset that I feared I would never sleep normally..and then a friend suggested melatonin and it was amazing. You have done a wonderful job of presenting this information in detail and yet a manner that is easy to understand. You are an excellent writer!
Kate P (author) from The North Woods, USA on January 07, 2012:
Molometer, I hope you try it out. It's good on so many levels for so many things, it's worth taking even if you sleep well. Thanks!
Micheal from United Kingdom on November 28, 2011:
Well written, clear and useful hub.
How I wish I had found this years ago. I have had an ongoing battle with sleep time my whole life.
I am currently undergoing a sleep trial; for the next two weeks. Then into the clinic overnight.
Thanks for a very informative hub.
Kate P (author) from The North Woods, USA on October 20, 2011:
I'm about to test the effectiveness of melatonin by changing my sleep schedule for a new job. I have full faith in its getting me turned around quickly, without unnecessary tiredness! Thanks for the great comments! :)
Suzie from Carson City on October 20, 2011:
Hi, faceless, just checking in while away on vacation...but had to read this hub. Have taken Melatonin for YEARS. Bought THE MELATONIN MIRACLE so long ago. Reference it now & then. I agree w/ you 100% of course & feel you have shared very useful info w/ readers. Many people know nothing about it. There is an OTC sleep remedy now that contains melatonin & 2 other major homeopathics, but I have no need to change my usual practice. "Calms Forte," has been around for decades. A friend of mine used to take the effervessant formula w/ water, for gently calming her nerves. She swore by it. Thanks for the great hub!
Helen Murphy Howell from Fife, Scotland on October 09, 2011:
I've heard of Melatonin but it's astounding just how much this chemical can do. I also had no idea that you could actually purchase a natural supplement with Melatonin.
This was a really fascinating hub! Voted up + awesome!
FloraBreenRobison on September 24, 2011:
I've never taken melatonin tablets before, although I'm aware of the benefits. I simply didn't know you could get them in different dosages.
Kate P (author) from The North Woods, USA on May 09, 2011:
@jcm_blabs, I'd never heard of Calms Forte before, but I'm glad it works for you! Interesting ingredients list including oats, hops, and chamomile. I think it must be the chamomile that helps with sleep.
jcm_blabs from My Bunker in the Midwest on May 09, 2011:
Sadly, I used to resort to night-time cough medicine to get a decent night's sleep, but have found a natural product called Calms Forte... Has worked wonders for me ever since! Thank you.
fucsia on May 01, 2011:
I am a shift worker and I used melatonin as aid for my sleep issues, without success. But I did not know its other benefits and now I think I will take it again. Thanks for sharing.
Elena@LessIsHealthy on May 01, 2011:
I've learnt so much, thanks.