If you’ve ever had chronic sleep problems, chances are someone has recommended melatonin as a cure.

Melatonin is a hormone produced in the brain by the pineal gland. Though it’s believed to have many functions in the human body, it’s commonly associated with maintaining your circadian rhythms. These rhythms are the body’s internal clock that regulates your sleep-wake cycle.

The body’s production of melatonin responds naturally to your exposure to daylight and dark. Your pineal gland releases it at night and blocks its release during the day.

Natural melatonin in food

Scientists have found some evidence that eating melatonin-rich foods could help to improve sleep quality.

Foods that contain high levels of melatonin include:

  • Eggs
  • Fish
  • Nuts – walnuts and pistachios are particularly high
  • Fruit – grapes, cherries and strawberries
  • Mushrooms
  • Cereals like rice (especially black rice), wheat, barley and oats
  • Germinated legumes or seeds

Other research has also indicated that melatonin has a positive effect on the immune system. It can also provide anti-inflammatory and anti-ageing benefits, is good for your cardiovascular system and can help prevent obesity and diabetes.

Now that’s what we call a ‘super-food’!

How melatonin is used

Melatonin is available in synthetic form as a supplement. Though it’s widely available as an over-the-counter supplement in many countries, you need a doctor’s prescription to buy melatonin in Australia.

The upside of melatonin is that it has very few side-effects and its use has been well-researched as a treatment for many medical conditions.

A recent Medical News Today article describes how melatonin has been recommended for sleep disorders, anxiety, headaches, cancer, Alzheimer’s Disease and tinnitus. It’s even been used to protect people from the harmful effects of radioactivity.

Taking melatonin can help you sleep better

In Australia, lack of sleep is a serious health problem. Around one in three people report having trouble getting to sleep or staying asleep.

Melatonin is commonly recommended as a short-term treatment for people who have trouble sleeping. It’s especially popular as a cure for jetlag.

Along with a range of good sleep habits – like keeping a regular sleep routine and shutting-off screens a couple of hours before bedtime – melatonin has been shown to help treat insomnia by helping to reset your circadian rhythms.

Is melatonin safe?

Here are a few general guidelines:

  • Melatonin is not addictive when taken short-term, however, researchers are still unclear about its long-term use.
  • Despite the relative safety of taking melatonin, people with high blood pressure should check with their doctor first before taking it.
  • Taking too much melatonin for insomnia can also have the opposite effect in some people, leading to chronic wakefulness.
  • As most research on melatonin use has been done on adults, the medical experts recommend against giving it to children.

So, it looks like the general guidelines for taking melatonin is that short-term use is fine, but the jury is still out on long-term use of melatonin. As always, talk to your doctor to discuss whether it might be the best alternative to help you sleep.