The pineal gland which is a part of the brain produces the hormone melatonin. This hormone will inform you know when to go to bed and when you must wake up. The synthesis of melatonin is suppressed by light and stimulated by darkness. The level of melatonin is highest in the blood during bed time. This suggests its association with the circadian rhythm which is the behavioral, mental and physical changes that happens in a 24 hour cycle as a response to darkness and light in a person. Melatonin in the form of oral pills is available. Melatonin is also available as natural melatonin which is extracted from pineal gland in animals. This natural form may be contaminated with virus. The synthetic form of melatonin is without any such risk. It is advised that you confirm the nature of the pill from your doctor or pharmacist before taking it.
Uses of melatonin
Melatonin is used to treat sleep disorders like insomnia, which means trouble falling asleep or staying asleep. It is used to prevent cases of jet lag. Jet lag is a sleep problem due to time difference when you travel from one country to the other. Before taking melatonin for jetlag or any other sleep disorder it is better to consult your doctor. It is important for you to tell the doctor if you are taking any other medication for a health problem or you are pregnant or breastfeeding. The effect of melatonin on the fetus is not clearly known.
Melatonin is also used in conditions like attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, delayed sleep phase syndrome, mental retardation, cerebral palsy, autism, Alzheimer’s disease, as protection against sunburn, depression, ringing in the ears, Chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, migraine, osteoporosis (bone loss), Irritable bowel syndrome, epilepsy, as anti aging agent (which is still not proven scientifically), menopause, birth control, in cancers of lung, breast, prostrate, head, neck, and gastrointestinal cancer. In addition, melatonin is used to control side effects of cancer treatment and in calming patients before giving them general anesthesia for surgery.
Side effects and safety concerns
Melatonin treatment may cause certain side effects. These include headache, drowsiness during daytime, discomfort in stomach, depression and irritability. Melatonin should not be used in pregnancy and also during breastfeeding. It is reported that it affects ovulation and makes it difficult to conceive.
Melatonin raises the blood pressure when the person takes medications to control blood pressure. Melatonin should be avoided in such cases. Its use is strictly prohibited in children as it may interfere with development in the adolescent period. Melatonin increases blood sugar level in diabetics. There is a risk for seizure due to melatonin use.
It is advised to avoid taking melatonin with sedatives (drugs that induce sleep) as it will cause too much drowsiness. Birth control pills increase the melatonin production in the body. Taking melatonin may decrease the effectiveness of drugs that suppress the immune system. The blood clotting process is slowed down by melatonin and hence the chance of excessive bleeding is there when melatonin is taken with drugs that slow the clotting process.
Foods rich in melatonin
The foods rich in melatonin are rice, sweet corn, barley, ginger, oats, carrot, cabbage, onion, cucumber, kiwi fruit, pineapple, apple, tomato, asparagus, and strawberries. Though it is not proven that melatonin rich foods aid in good for sleep, it is healthy to eat these foods on a regular basis.
Tips for a good night sleep
For a good night sleep you must avoid alcohol, tobacco, decongestants, coffee, tea, chocolate and caffeinated soda. Try to reduce the stress factor in your life by practicing stress relieving techniques like deep breathing, yoga and meditation. Keep only 30 minutes aside to worry about your problems. Once the time is up, don’t think about your problems for the rest of the day or night. Drinking a glass of warm milk or eating a light snack like cheese crackers before going to bed is recommended for a good night sleep. It is better that you avoid taking a nap in the afternoon if you are having trouble sleeping in the nights.
Good sleep for better health
People spend 1/3rd of their lives in sleep. A normal healthy adult needs 7 hours to 8 hours of sleep. If you are having a troubled sleep, it will affect your mood and also your work productivity. There is also an increased risk of vehicle accidents due to drowsy driving and complications like high blood pressure and heart disease. By following good sleeping habits you can overcome sleep disorders and avoid health complications. Remember for a better health you need a good night sleep.