Many people know of
melatonin as a dietary supplement taken to help with jet lag.
Recently, melatonin has made the news as an ingredient in
“relaxation” brownies and beverages.
Melatonin is a hormone
produced naturally in the human brain. Its primary function is to
help us sleep; melatonin production increases at night time. For
this reason, people take melatonin supplements for jet lag and sleep
disturbances. Research studies for these uses show mixed results –
but there is no research showing that melatonin should be
added to foods and drinks!
Melatonin supplements may
not have consistent amounts of the active ingredient in them. They
may be absorbed into the body at different rates. Quality control
may be variable. (The U.S. Food and Drug Administration [FDA] is not
permitted to regulate dietary supplements in the same way that it
monitors prescription and over-the-counter drugs.) This can make it
hard to interpret research studies that don’t describe the
formulation of melatonin used.
Melatonin seems to be safe
when taken for short periods of time, though there are no studies of
long-term safety. Side effects include drowsiness, as expected, but
otherwise are about the same as placebo pills (sugar pills). People
with seizure disorders should not take melatonin, as there are some
reports of seizures occurring in people who took melatonin.
Melatonin for jet
lag: Several studies have evaluated the effectiveness of
melatonin for jet lag. Most studies were small. Some researchers
believe that melatonin is safe and effective when people cross five
or more time zones in the eastern direction. Other researchers say
that there is no evidence that melatonin helps with sleep problems
associated with jet lag, though it may help people to feel more
awake during the day. All seem to agree that additional research is
Melatonin for sleep
disturbances: A review of more than 125 studies, many of
them small, concluded that melatonin doesn’t seem to help most
people with sleep problems, including people with jet lag and shift
workers. There is some evidence that it can help people fall asleep
faster. The researchers found that most studies fell short in
describing the details of the melatonin used in the study.
A prescription drug called
Ramelteon acts on the same area of the brain as melatonin. It is
prescribed for elderly people with insomnia.
children with ADHD and insomnia: Many children with
attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) have problems
falling asleep and staying asleep. A review of four studies of such
children found that melatonin often helped them fall asleep faster
and sleep longer.
brownies and relaxation drinks: Melatonin was baked into
brownies and added to beverages, then marketed as “relaxation” aids.
The amount of melatonin was typically more than a usual bedtime dose
of 5 milligrams. The FDA required companies to remove melatonin from
their products, noting that melatonin has medical uses but is NOT
recognized as a safe addition to foods.
Although hundreds of
melatonin studies have been published, many of them involved only
small numbers of people, were not scientifically rigorous, and used
unspecified types of melatonin products. To date, there are no
definite answers about how well melatonin works for a number of
conditions, and how safe it is when taken for long periods.
American Society of Health System
Pharmacists. AHFS Consumer Medication Information [Internet].
Remelteon. [May 1 2009]. Approximately two pages.
Accessed Dec 5, 2011.
Bendz LM, Scates
AC. Melatonin treatment for insomnia in pediatric patients with
attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Ann Pharmacother
Buscemi N, Vandermeer B, Pandya R,
Hooton N, Tjosvold L, Hartling L, Baker G, Vohra S, Klassen T.
Melatonin for Treatment of Sleep Disorders. Summary, Evidence
Report/Technology Assessment No. 108. (Prepared by the University of
Alberta Evidence-based Practice Center, under Contract No.
290-02-0023.) AHRQ Publication No. 05-E002-1. Rockville, MD: Agency
for Healthcare Research and Quality. November 2004.
Petrie KJ. Melatonin for the prevention and treatment of jet lag.
Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2002, Issue 2. Art. No.:
CD001520. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD001520.