Insomnia Treatment Option: Melatonin

Hormone May Help Circadian Rhythm Problems

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Melatonin is a popular supplement used to treat sleeping problems, but what are the actual conditions for which it might be helpful? How is melatonin made in the body and what should you consider if you take it in a supplement form?

To answer these questions, let’s review an excerpt from UpToDate -- a trusted electronic medical reference used by health care providers and patients alike. Then, read on for additional information about what all of this means for you.

"Melatonin is a hormone that is normally produced by a gland in the brain. Melatonin does not appear to be helpful in most people who have insomnia, except in people with delayed sleep phase syndrome.

"Melatonin appears to be safe when used for less than three months. However, melatonin is marketed as a dietary supplement; the ingredients, dose, and purity of dietary supplements are not regulated. Listed doses may be higher than that used for the treatment of insomnia (0.2 to 0.3 mg per night)."

You may be surprised to learn that most people who have difficulty falling or staying asleep, characteristics of insomnia, are not helped by taking melatonin. As described above, melatonin is a naturally occurring hormone. Hormones are the chemical messengers in the body. Melatonin appears to have important effects on sleep, especially in the timing of sleep called the circadian rhythm. Melatonin is made in a small gland within the brain called the pineal gland.

Glands are like small pouches in the body that often contain liquids, such as hormones, that are kept isolated until they are needed.

Over-the-counter supplements that contain melatonin may be taken in an attempt to improve sleep. These supplements often contain 1 or 2 mg of melatonin, most often in a pill form.

As mentioned above, this may be as much as 10 times as much melatonin as should be used to treat insomnia. Unless your insomnia is due to a difficulty with the timing of your sleep, which may occur in circadian rhythm sleep disorders such as delayed sleep phase syndrome, it is unlikely to be of much benefit.

Finally, even though melatonin is a hormone, it is sold as a dietary supplement in the United States and other parts of the world rather than as a medication. Therefore, it does not face the same regulation and quality standards as would be enforced by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). This may be concerning as there could be impurities in the medication, the dose could be inaccurate, or it may not even contain the medication that you are expecting to purchase. Moreover, these supplements do not have to prove their benefits before being allowed to be marketed to consumers.

Therefore, if you wish to consider the use of melatonin to treat your sleep disorder you may first want to speak with your doctor.

After careful consideration of your symptoms, you can decide together whether it is the right treatment for you to use.

Want to learn more? See UpToDate's topic, "Insomnia treatments," for additional in-depth medical information.


Bonnet, Michael et al. "Insomnia treatments." UpToDate. Accessed: October 2011.

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