Using Melatonin to Treat Insomnia

Melatonin supplements can help regulate your circadian rhythm cycle.
Melatonin supplements can help regulate your circadian rhythm cycle.
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Melatonin is another natural choice to treat insomnia that is also proving to be safe and effective, at least for short-term use.

Your body comes equipped with a biological clock that regulates sleeping and waking activities. Melatonin, a hormone naturally produced in the body, is believed to help keep the clock ticking by regulating what's known as our circadian rhythm cycle.

Traveling across several time zones disrupts that rhythm, and the result is jet lag -- that feeling of exhaustion and disorientation you get when you wake up the next day in a strange hotel room. What may help in those cases is using melatonin to treat insomnia the night before.

Our bodies produce melatonin in the bean-size pineal gland nestled deep inside our brains; it is also produced in the retinas of our eyes. Melatonin production is stimulated by darkness and shuts down in the presence of bright light (especially sunlight). Normally, the pineal gland starts increasing its melatonin production around 9 P.M. Hormone levels peak between 2 A.M. and 4 A.M. and then return to their normal daytime levels.

Exactly how melatonin works is unclear. At a worldwide scientific gathering in Switzerland in 1997, Dr. Peretz Lavie reported that electroencephalograms taken during secretion of melatonin are similar to those induced by ben­­zodiazepine drugs such as Klonopin. But melatonin in no other way resembles benzodiazepines, according to a study that appeared two years earlier in the journal Psychopharmacology.

Infants produce a great deal of melatonin. But after we reach puberty, our melatonin levels begin to decrease. As we grow older, the pineal gland calcifies, resulting in a further loss of melatonin.

By the time we're elderly, melatonin levels are quite low, perhaps accounting for the fact that so many older people suffer from insomnia. Several clinical trials have demonstrated that melatonin-replacement therapy may be beneficial for those people.

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