Melatonin is, quite possibly, the most popular natural sleep aid on the market today. It comes in lozenges, droplets, chewables, capsules, and several other forms. Your brain releases it to naturally signal your body to go to sleep, but it’s also been connected to several more health benefits!
What is Melatonin?
Melatonin is a hormone that is released by your brains’ pineal gland. It’s released in a rhythmic cycle each day and helps to re-enforce your body’s natural sleep/wake cycle. This function has made it a popular natural treatment for jet lag. It helps one find their “groove” again (R). There are several natural sources of melatonin such, such as cherries. Some natural sleep aid supplements utilized these to ensure the presence of natural co-nutrients to help maximize absorption.
Surprisingly enough, melatonin is also produced in several areas of the body other than the pineal gland. This includes tissues, bones, sex organs, and even major organs such as the kidneys. Melatonin produced here (non-pineal melatonin) is thought to only be used locally at the site of production and doesn’t circulate throughout the body. Melatonin is both fat-soluble and water-soluble (amphiphile) which allows it to be utilized in many intracellular processes (R).
Benefits of Melatonin
With a broader understanding of melatonin’s ability to be used throughout the body, as much more than a sleep aid, it’s reasonable to assume it might possess many more benefits—not necessarily related to sleep. Turns out that’s very true! Melatonin has been studied in the prevention of osteoporosis, tooth decay, and even as an antioxidant. Below you’ll find some brief discussion of the many benefits of melatonin—some of which you may already know but likely many that will take you by surprise!
1.Natural Sleep Aid
There’s little wonder why melatonin is one of the best natural sleep aids. It helps reduce the time to get to sleep, helps increase the time spent sleeping, improves overall sleep quality, and you never build up a tolerance (R). Just in case you aren’t sold yet—side effects are seldom reported and mild when experienced. It’s not as effective as pharmaceuticals but definitely has fewer side effects and overall downsides. In other words, probably the best compound to start with!
2. Seasonal Depression
There are a lot of health concerns that can find roots in sleep quality. Among them is seasonal affective disorder (SAD) also referred to as seasonal depression. This condition is thought to be, at least partially, rooted in a shift of the body’s natural circadian rhythm in response to changes in the length of days from Summer to Winter (R). The treatments of choice in this condition are often bright light exposure therapy and melatonin.
3. Growth Hormone Levels
Human growth hormone plays an integral role in many processes vital to cellular regeneration and repair throughout the body. Higher HGH levels have been attributed to increases in strength and overall muscle mass but it’s also a seriously powerful antioxidant. There are several HGH supplements other than melatonin, but melatonin has been found to be particularly effective at boosting HGH (R). To date, there have only been smaller studies to confirm this but most have found similar results—melatonin increases HGH levels. This is little surprise considering a large percentage of daily HGH is secreted while we sleep (R). Better sleep, better HGH—makes sense, right?
4. Eye Health
Melatonin is produced in the retina as well as other vision-related tissues. The presence of melatonin in these tissues helps serve as an antioxidant, and increase levels of other antioxidants, that help support better eye health (R). For this reason, research suggests melatonin therapy may have a future role as a treatment for conditions such as glaucoma and age-related macular degeneration. Initial human trials seem to back this up (R).
5. Acid Reflux
Acid reflux, often referred to by its technical name Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), is characterized by stomach acids escaping into the throat. It causes burning, discomfort, nausea and, over time, can do serious damage to the throat. Using melatonin to help treat acid reflux is a fairly new idea, and only supported by limited research (R). Melatonin can help block the production of nitric oxide which causes the GI to relax and allow stomach acids where they shouldn’t be.
Compounds the body produces naturally generally have only mild side effects reported. Melatonin is one such compound but has been known to cause dizziness, nausea, and mild headaches. It’s also known to have negative interactions with medications such as blood thinners, antidepressants, and blood pressure regulators.
Research has also shown that many melatonin supplements simply don’t contain the amount of melatonin they advertise (R). For this reason, it’s essential to buy from brands that specialize in sleep supplements or professional brands that are known to have stringent quality control practices. Melatonin shows great promise as a natural sleep aid and supplementation with this compound may help avoid the need for pharmaceuticals. You should always talk with your doctor before trying melatonin, as it may impact your current medications.