It is sometimes known as the Dracula hormone because it surges at night and stays low during the day. But most of us know it as melatonin, a hormone that has become intimately connected in our minds with nightfall and sleep. In the US, where melatonin supplements are available without a prescription, millions of adults take them regularly to combat insomnia, jet lag, and night shifts. Thousands more hand out melatonin “gummies” to their children to help them sleep through the night. In the United Kingdom, melatonin It is available by prescription for the short-term treatment of insomnia in people age 55 and older and for jet lag.
So a large group believe that melatonin is the answer to their sleep problems. So it may surprise you to learn that nearly a quarter of a century ago, researchers writing in the journal Cell warned against “melatonin craze”. “Melatonin [sleep-inducing] capacity has…beautified,” they wrote. “The cure for melatonin madness is to ignore hyperbole and histrionics and focus instead on hypothesis testing and solid science.”
It seems that few people listened to the warnings. In the USA, the use of melatonin increased fivefold between 1999 and 2018 and recent news has reported an increase in the accidental ingestion of melatonin, the hormone accounted for 1 in 20 ingestions among children and young adults under the age of 19 reported to the US National Poison Data System in 2021.
Where is the truth? Can melatonin really improve our sleep? Emerging research suggests that we have misunderstood its effect on our bodies and brains. So who should really take it and what are the risks? …