In response to darkness (as during the nighttime when we’re in bed), our body produces melatonin. This hormone, which is derived from serotonin (a neurotransmitter found in the brain and blood serum), is secreted by the pineal gland of the brain. This natural process of melatonin-secretion takes place especially during the night when lights are off. More than anything else, it is melatonin that induces us to sleep the moment we retire at night. During daytime, the production of melatonin is considerably lessened. It is for this reason that melatonin is recognized as our ‘body clock’ setter.
Melatonin has come to be known as an efficient treatment for insomnia – a condition characterized by the continued inability to get sufficient sleep. Insomnia can be one of the symptoms of jet lag (the others being excessive weariness and peevishness), or it may be the result of an inefficient production of melatonin in a person. In either case, melatonin supplements have been proven to help a person get his much-needed sleep. A supplement may be most effective when taken about half an hour prior to hitting the bed. Some air travelers, however, insist that melatonin do not work as well for them. This may be because, as some frequent fliers opine, their timing isn’t right when taking the supplement. Other seasoned sojourners can be more detail-conscious: To determine when to take melatonin, they take into account time zones traversed and directions flown.
Concerns on the safety of melatonin supplements have been raised, even for those with low dosage. Of course, such apprehensions are more pronounced when high-dosage drugs are involved. A number of side effects, associated with the long-term use of melatonin, have been identified. These include headaches, stomach distress, feeling of dejection, and torpidity during daytime. If only for these reasons, it will be best to seek professional medical advice before taking melatonin
Still, there are those who contend that melatonin is safe for treating insomnia. Others assert that melatonin helps in the alleviation of seasonal affective disorder, or SAD – a condition that is likened to jet lag and is common during the season of winter. People living in the northern portions of the globe are those known to suffer from SAD the most. As winter proceeds, their body clock loses coordination with clock time and rising in the morning becomes an arduous task for them. To help solve this condition, they take small doses of melatonin in the afternoon. This, they claim, helps set their body clock in advance so they are able to get up in the cold winter mornings without much difficulty.
As to the assertion by some people that melatonin also actually functions like an antioxidant in counteracting the free radicals in the body, medical experts agree that this requires further researches and studies.
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