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Getting quality sleep is highly important to maintaining good health and protecting us from both acute and chronic health issues. According to a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 1 in 3 American adults are not getting enough sleep on a regular basis.

As a result, many people are looking to natural solutions for remedying their sleep issues – and one such sleep aid is Melatonin.

What is Melatonin?

Melatonin is a natural hormone produced by our pineal gland located at the base of the brain. It regulates our sleep/wake cycle – also known as our circadian rhythm or 24 hour internal clock, which controls how much of this hormone we produce.

Normally melatonin levels rise in the mid-to-late evening as it starts to get darker outside, and remains high for most of the night. Then as it begins to get lighter in the early morning hours, our levels begin to decline and we start to wake up.

In addition to natural sunlight, artificial lights such as those emitted from screens (phones, computers) and digital alarm clocks can be strong enough to disrupt the normal production of melatonin, making it imperative to shut down all devices well before bedtime and to ensure our sleeping environment is completely dark.

It’s important to note that as we age, natural melatonin levels begin to decline, and some older adults make very little of it or none at all.

The precursor to melatonin is serotonin, a neurotransmitter that’s derived from the amino acid tryptophan.

Some foods that naturally increase melatonin production include oats, bananas, tart cherries, barley, and walnuts, however, if your body isn’t producing enough on its own naturally, supplementing with melatonin is also an option.

Melatonin as a Supplement

Melatonin is easily found in supplemental form in health food stores, and over-the-counter in many pharmacies.

It’s available in tablets, dissolvable sublingual lozenges, or in liquid format. Typically you’ll find melatonin in 1 mg, 3 mg, 5 mg, and 10 mg potencies.

Recommended dosages will vary based on the reason for its use, and the right dose varies from individual to individual. As always, consult your doctor to learn the dosage that’s right for you.

Melatonin is most commonly used as a natural sleep aid, and to treat various sleep disturbances.

When it comes to sleep troubles, melatonin can be helpful for the following scenarios:

  • Insomnia
  • Jet lag
  • Circadian-rhythm sleep disorders
  • Delayed sleep phase syndrome
  • Shift work sleep disturbances
  • Preventing or reducing problems with sleeping and confusion after surgery

In most cases, melatonin supplements are considered safe in low doses for short-term and long-term use, and unlike many sleep medications, dependency and habituation are unlikely.

There are some reported side-effects with melatonin which go away when supplementation is discontinued.

Side-effects may include:

  • Sleepiness
  • Vivid dreams
  • Morning grogginess
  • Decrease in body temperature
  • Small changes in blood pressure

It’s always advised to talk with your doctor first before supplementing, as melatonin does interact with many prescription medications. You should also avoid driving or operating machinery for at least 4 hours after taking it. Furthermore, children, along with pregnant and nursing women should not take melatonin without consulting a doctor first.

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About the Author

Elaine is a Certified Nutritionist and Women’s Health Coach. She works with clients across the globe to help them improve their health and relationship with food. Elaine believes in a real food approach to health that is rooted in optimizing digestion and includes ongoing and intelligent cleansing. You can download her FREE Hip, Healthy & Holistic Makeover Guide to learn 5 simple things you can do every day to lose weight, increase energy, kick cravings, and feel beautiful inside & out.

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