What is melatonin?

Image of Professor Colin Espie
By Professor Colin Espie

Melatonin is a naturally occurring hormone which the brain produces in the late evening and throughout the night. It is associated with the dark period of the light-dark cycle. Some studies suggest that melatonin in tablet form, several hours before bedtime, can help people get to sleep more quickly. However, again there are few long-term studies, so melatonin does not offer a solution for persistent poor sleep. Some people prefer the idea of a 'natural' product over a sleeping pill, but like sleeping pills, the benefits of melatonin seem to be lost almost immediately when people stop taking medication.

Light at night may inhibit the production of melatonin and lead to a delay in sleep onset and possibly sleep fragmentation. There is a growing concern that adolescents (and adults) are being exposed to light from phones and computers, for example, when in bed late at night, impacting on melatonin and sleep-onset.

As ever please consult your doctor before considering any change in your medication regime.

Filed under: Sleep science