Melatonin is a hormone our body naturally produces. It appears that the level rises and falls during the day and assists in setting our internal clock, along with some other bodily functions. Melatonin has been sold as a food supplement since the early 1990's.
Reduced exposure to light and increased age both decrease the amount of melatonin in your body. There are numerous research studies that document increased exposure to light in the winter assists with both increased mood and better sleep.
I read a recent article published in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders that addressed the use of melatonin as an intervention for sleep problems in children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Kids with ASD have high rates of sleep difficulties. The results revealed that the nocturnal melatonin metabolite levels were low in the children with sleep problems. The children with higher melatonin levels had increased N3 sleep, decrease N2 sleep and decreased daytime sleepiness. The results of this study add to the ongoing body of evidence of the efficaciousness of melatonin replacement for children with sleep problems.
It is important to remember that even though melatonin is a natural substance produced in our bodies, there can be problems when taking supplements. Melatonin does have side effects, which seem to go away when you stop taking the supplement. The most common are sleepiness, lower body temperature, vivid dreams, morning grogginess and small changes in blood pressure. Like with all supplements, you may experience some or none of these side effects. This particular study was with children not taking any medication and without additional medical problems. It is always best to speak with a medical professional before taking any medication, even over the counter supplements, especially if you take other medications.
Leu, R., Beyderman, L., Botzolakis, E.H., Surdyka, K., Wang, L., & Malow, B.A. (2011). Relation of melatonin to sleep architecture in children with autism. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 41, 427-433.
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