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Normally, the body secretes melatonin for several hours per night—an effect best duplicated with time-release supplements. Studies using timed-release melatonin for insomnia have reported good results.46 Many doctors suggest 1–3 mg of melatonin taken one to two hours before bedtime. Studies with people suffering from sarcoidosis or cancer have used very high amounts of melatonin—typically 20 mg per night. Such levels should never be taken without the supervision of a doctor. Melatonin should not be taken during the day.
Melatonin is produced by the pineal gland, located within the brain. Levels of melatonin in the body fluctuate with the cycles of night and day. The highest melatonin levels are found at night. Melatonin is present in foods only in trace amounts.
Although elderly people often have difficulty sleeping47 and melatonin supplements have been shown to improve sleep in the elderly,48 melatonin secretion does not appear to decline in healthy older adults to a significant degree, despite many preliminary reports to the contrary.49 Most of these preliminary studies failed to verify that older subjects were healthy and not using drugs that suppress melatonin secretion (e.g., aspirin, ibuprofen, beta-blockers). Routine replacement of melatonin in elderly persons is, therefore, not recommended.
Adults with insomnia have been shown to have lower melatonin levels.50 Frequent travelers and shift workers are also likely to benefit from melatonin for the resynchronization of their sleep schedules,51 though a melatonin “deficiency” as such does not exist for these people. Patients with heart disease have been reported to have low melatonin levels, but whether this abnormality increases the risk of heart disease or whether heart disease leads to the low melatonin level is not yet known.52 People with schizophrenia were found to have low melatonin output and experienced significantly improved sleep following melatonin replacement supplementation.53
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The information presented in Aisle7 is for informational purposes only. It is based on scientific studies (human, animal, or in vitro), clinical experience, or traditional usage as cited in each article. The results reported may not necessarily occur in all individuals. Self-treatment is not recommended for life-threatening conditions that require medical treatment under a doctor's care. For many of the conditions discussed, treatment with prescription or over the counter medication is also available. Consult your doctor, practitioner, and/or pharmacist for any health problem and before using any supplements or before making any changes in prescribed medications. Information expires June 2015.