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Melatonin is a hormone that is naturally produced by the brain’s pineal gland. The levels in the body vary according to daily cycles, and higher levels can be observed in the blood just prior to your normal bedtime. Although it can be derived from animal sources, many people take melatonin that is laboratory-produced and available in a pill or liquid form. People often take melatonin to treat insomnia and other sleep disorders. Those who work night shifts, for instance, might find it helpful at regulating their sleep. Though medical experts have differing opinions regarding melatonin’s effectiveness at curing insomnia, many doctors acknowledge that it can successfully treat the symptoms of jet lag.

In addition, it is sometimes used to treat Alzheimer’s disease, depression and several other conditions. Not enough studies have been done, however, to determine its efficacy at treating these disorders.  While melatonin has also been used to treat insomnia in autistic and otherwise developmentally delayed children, it is generally recommended for adult use only. The suggested dosage amount per person can vary, so you should contact a physician with questions if you’re considering taking melatonin.

According to a 2006 study conducted by the University of Alberta, melatonin can be considered safe for short-term use by most people. However, there are several known side effects of melatonin, the most common of which include:

Drowsiness and daytime sleepiness Sleepwalking Confusion Headache Dizziness Abdominal discomfort

In addition to the common side effects mentioned, some rare melatonin side effects can include allergic reactions, hives or a skin rash, or swelling of the mouth, tongue, lips or face. Someone who experiences difficulty breathing or other life-threatening conditions should always seek medical attention.

Individuals with certain health conditions, including pregnant women, are also advised against taking melatonin. Most side effects of melatonin can be reduced or avoided by not taking it for extended periods. Look for upset stomach, severe headache or extreme drowsiness as signs of a potential overdose.

People taking melatonin should also be aware of potential interactions with certain medications, including birth control pills, anticoagulants (blood thinners), and diabetes medications. Doctors also advise caution when taking it in combination with other herbs and supplements. To avoid side effects, people are advised to take synthetic melatonin; the natural form is derived from animals, which might carry viruses or disease. Always consult a doctor for advice.