Most people consider sleeping and waking as purely physical processes. You feel tired, get comfortable, and your mind and body slip into a sleep state. In the morning, you wake either on your own or to the sound of an alarm.
On a biological level, however, your body produces several hormones and chemicals to support this sleep-wake cycle. Melatonin is one of the most important ones. It’s created by your brain in response to darkness. It assists with the timing of your circadian rhythms (24 hour internal clock) and with sleep.
While the body should create enough melatonin to stabilize sleep cycles, roughly a third of the adult population may be sleep-deprived.  And everything from too much screen time to hectic schedules could be to blame for natural melatonin production impediments. Therefore, melatonin supplements have become highly popular over the years.
But before we discuss the benefits of melatonin, let’s understand what it is.
What Is Melatonin?
You may hear melatonin mentioned a lot in terms of a supplement that can be recommended to help you sleep. In fact, natural melatonin is actually an endogenous hormone produced by the pineal gland in the brain.  While scientists are just beginning to learn the full influence of the hormone melatonin, one thing is clear: it impacts the circadian rhythm, specifically the sleep-wake cycle. Hence, it’s commonly called the "sleep hormone."
When in the dark, melatonin reaches peak production points, while production wanes and is almost non-existent in the body during daylight exposure. Information about whether you are in the darkness or light is delivered to the pineal gland through the retinas in your eyes.
This may be why you start feeling sleepy if you spend a long period of time in a dark room or feel more alert once you're in the sunlight. The fact that information about light exposure is sent through the retinas also explains why many people with retinal damage or blindness are prone to circadian rhythm disorders. 
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What Are the Benefits of Melatonin?
In many respects, information about the benefits of melatonin is in its early stages. Nevertheless, a handful of studies indicate the potential value of melatonin for therapeutic purposes. Melatonin may just be much more than an aid to help a person sleep!
Promotes Healthy Sleep
The obvious one. Most of us know that melatonin is a good supplement to take before bed, aiding in better sleep. In fact, numerous studies have shown it can help with sleep. The supplement is currently the most popular sleep aid for this reason. In an extensive analysis of 19 studies, research suggests that melatonin: 
- Shortened sleep-latency times (how long it took to fall asleep)
- Lengthened the duration of sleep
- Improved the overall quality of sleep
Even though research into this benefit has not been extensively studied in humans, it may play a role in eye health. Scientists have determined that it may deter eye cell damage,  which may be supportive for individuals with age-related macular degeneration or glaucoma. This is due to the fact that melatonin acts like an “antioxidant” when it comes to eye health.
Prevents or Reduces Jet Lag
Crossing over to varying time zones can bring on physical exhaustion and difficulty sleeping, known as jet lag. Taking melatonin supplements can help prevent or minimize jet lag, especially when traveling over multiple time zones. Melatonin acts by aiding the body's internal clocks to adjust to the current time zone, helping the traveler to adapt. 
Reduces Seasonal Depression
Seasonal depression, which is also known as SAD or seasonal affective disorder, is thought to be associated with light changes that naturally occur with different seasons. One study  found that melatonin supplementation helped deter the symptoms of seasonal depression, but other studies have been less conclusive.
It may be good for general sleep support but also benefit people with sleep disorders like insomnia. In one study of 50 adults,  those that consumed melatonin a few hours before going to bed fell asleep faster and slept better.
Melatonin supplementation may support a boost in the production of human growth hormone (HGH).  HGH has a number of benefits, including supporting the development of lean muscle tissue and boosting the strength of the bones.
May Help with GERD
GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease) allows acid from the stomach to retract into the esophagus, which can cause everything from belching to heartburn. Studies have indicated that taking it may reduce GERD symptoms  by blocking stomach acid secretion and relaxing the esophagus.
Factors That Influence Natural Melatonin Production
Since its production is influenced by exposure to darkness and light, the levels of this hormone could be easily influenced by certain lifestyle habits. While darkness/light exposure is the most noteworthy influential factor on melatonin production, other things can affect this hormone's natural levels  as well, such as:
- Age- Natural production drops with age
- Caloric Intake - Calorie restriction reduces production
- Eating Certain Foods - Certain foods may elevate or lower levels
- Taking Certain Vitamins and Minerals - (folate and vitamin B6 increase serotonin levels, which is the precursor of melatonin. Zinc and magnesium increase the formation of melatonin from serotonin).
Read our previous blog on how to increase melatonin naturally.
Supplements have grown to be quite popular over the last decade. Understandably so since so many people struggle to fall asleep or sleep well once they do. If you are struggling to fall asleep or frequently struggle with getting enough sleep, adding melatonin supplements to your regimen may help. Melatonin supplements are especially valuable if you are dealing with jet lag or feeling anxious and can't fall asleep.
It should be noted that melatonin supplements  are produced with many different ingredients. Some supplements use extracts from animals, plants, or certain microorganisms. However, most supplements are created from synthetically produced ingredients. While medical professionals say that melatonin supplements are generally safe when taken appropriately, they are not recommended for long-term use.
They are appropriate in some short-term cases. For example, melatonin supplements can help people who are recovering from jet lag or inconsistent sleep patterns. It is not recommended to take these supplements nightly.
As a word of caution, melatonin supplements are not for everyone and may even cause health concerns for some. Before exploring this option, it’s important to discuss your intentions of taking this supplement with your physician. If you do choose to try a melatonin supplement to “reset” your sleep and get back into a good routine, aim for a short-term approach.
According to Johns Hopkins sleep expert Luis F. Buenaver, Ph.D., CBSM, nightly melatonin is safe for most people to take for one to two months.
After that, stop and see how your sleep is. Be sure you’re also relaxing before bed, keeping the lights low, and sleeping in a cool, dark, comfortable bedroom for optimal results.
Luis F. Buenaver
Ph.D, Assistant Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences
Natural melatonin plays a critical role in sleep-wake cycles. Unfortunately, everyday habits and even factors like age and your work schedule sometimes get in the way of stable levels.
For individuals that have problems falling asleep and staying asleep on occasion, a high-quality supplement may help. However, supplements may not be an option for everyone.
Looking for other ways to support good sleep beyond melatonin? At sleepme, we strive to help everyone sleep better with the industry’s most advanced temperature regulated Sleep Systems, a non-wearable Sleep Tracker, expert sleep advice, personalized recommendations, and much more!
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