Melatonin: The Sleep Hormone

Few things are as beautiful as the rays of the morning sun. The first light of morning is energizing and motivating—unless you’ve been awake half the night. In this case, the morning light just means that you didn’t get enough sleep. Again.

As soon as those first rays hit your eyes, your stress begins to mount. You’re exhausted. How are you going to make it all day long on so little sleep? You feel emotional just anticipating the struggle to concentrate and stay alert—especially during the afternoon hours when the drowsiness really kicks in.

Does this describe you? If so, you are not alone. The National Sleep Foundation reports that 60% of Americans have sleep problems. That means more than half of us struggle to sleep. The reasons for sleep difficulties are many—from stress to caffeine to individual differences in body rhythms.

But whatever the cause, the bottom line is that if you suffer from insomnia or other even minor sleep issues, you need help. And one of the safest ways to get that help may be to take melatonin.

Help from a Hormone

You have probably heard of melatonin. It is a hormone produced by your brain in your pineal gland. Some of your melatonin is also produced in your gut. Mainly, melatonin helps to control your sleep and wake cycles. Normally, melatonin levels will begin to increase in the mid to late evening, stay high during the night, and then begin to decrease early in the morning. This helps you to sleep during the night and be ready to wake up in the morning.

When there are higher amounts of melatonin in your body, you feel sleepy. When the levels are lower, you feel more alert and awake. Your regular sleep and wake cycle is your own internal clock, and this clock is directly tied to how much or how little melatonin your body makes.

There are other things that affect the melatonin in our bodies. For example, as we age, our bodies produce less melatonin. Daylight plays a key role, too. When the days are shorter during the winter, the time of day that our bodies produce melatonin changes. Rather than producing melatonin during the mid to late evening hours, we may get a surge of it earlier in the day as the daylight begins fading earlier.

When the amount of melatonin or the production schedule of melatonin changes in your body, you may find yourself struggling with sleep patterns.

Without enough melatonin, you will have trouble sleeping. But even if you make enough melatonin, your internal clock may be off if the melatonin is being released at the wrong time of day. Nobody wants to get sleepy at 5:00 PM from a melatonin release! Not only is this inconvenient, but also, when the natural decrease happens several hours later (to help you wake up), you’ll be alert and ready for the day by 3:00 AM!

Fortunately, if your melatonin levels are low or simply off schedule, you can help yourself by taking a melatonin supplement. These are available without a prescription at drugstores and at health food stores. Just be sure to buy a reputable brand to ensure you get a quality product.

Doses range from 0.1 to 20 mg, depending on the reason you are taking it. Your doctor can help you choose the right dose, as well as help you determine the best time in the evening to take it. Timing is important, since the melatonin, once ingested, will run its course in your body—taking you from drowsiness to wakefulness on schedule. It’s a handy way to reset your internal clock and get the sleep you need.