If you suffer from insomnia, you might have heard that the supplement melatonin is an effective way to get some sleep. Your body produces melatonin as a natural sleep aid. As night falls, your brain’s pineal gland secretes the hormone, causing you to become less alert.
Weary consumers can get synthetic melatonin over the counter. But does it send you off to dreamland as promised? Some study data support its use for insomnia and suggest some benefit for jet lag; other studies have found no benefit.
Melatonin supplements aren’t regulated by the Food and Drug Administration, and the doses used in studies were not the same as those found in over-the-counter forms. Their long-term safety and effectiveness are unknown. Overall side effects are uncommon but can include headache, sleepiness, heart palpitations and abdominal pain. Melatonin interacts with certain drugs such as blood thinners, immunosuppressants and diabetes medications. If you decide to take melatonin, do so only occasionally and short term. Consult your doctor before taking it. But before taking any sleeping aid, make sure you’re doing everything you can to achieve a good night’s sleep, including going to sleep at the same time each day, even weekends; keeping your bedroom quiet, dark and a little cool; avoiding heavy meals before bedtime; and limiting caffeine intake.