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Melatonin is a hormone made by the pineal gland in the brain. Melatonin is involved in sleep and wake cycles. Very small amounts of it are found in some foods, including fruits and vegetables. Our body clock controls the amount of melatonin the body produces. In a normal cycle, melatonin levels rise in the mid-to-late evening, remain elevated during nighttime, and decrease in the early morning.
Light affects how much melatonin the body produces. During shorter days of the year, melatonin may be produced earlier or later in the day than usual. This change can interrupt normal sleep cycles and mood.
A 2007 randomized, double blind, placebo-controlled, parallel- group, multi-center study of 170 primary insomnia subjects evaluated the effect of 2mg of melatonin on reducing sleep latency (time to sleep) and improving sleep quality. The melatonin treatment group significantly improved quality of sleep and morning alertness without withdrawal symptoms upon discontinuation.
A 2009 randomized, double-blind sleep laboratory phase 2 study of 40 subjects evaluated the effect of 2mg of melatonin on sleep measures and psychomotor performance. The study found that the treatment group had significantly shorter sleep onset latency compared with the placebo group and scored significantly better in the Critical Flicker Fusion Test. Half of the treatment subjects reported substantial improvement in sleep quality at home taking melatonin compared with 15% with placebo. Study researchers concluded that nightly treatment with melatonin effectively induced sleep.
Prolonged-release melatonin improves sleep quality and morning alertness in insomnia patients aged 55 years and older and has no withdrawal effects
Lemoine, Nir, Laudon, and Zisapel, Journal of Sleep Research, 2007
The effect of prolonged-release melatonin on sleep measures and psychomotor performance in elderly patients with insomnia
Luthringer R, Muzet M, Zisapel N, Staner L, International Clinical Psychopharmacology, 2009