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what is melatonin

What is melatonin?

23 Nov 2022 • 1 min read

Melatonin is a hormone that naturally occurs within the human body. When melatonin’s released, our brains know it’s time to get to bed.

Unfortunately, around one-third of British people experience sleep disturbance most nights.1 Sometimes, people with sleep disturbances are prescribed melatonin to help them drop off.

Melatonin, unlike herbal remedies to help you sleep, is only available by prescription. This helps ensure all melatonin available in the UK is effective and safe.2

In this article, we’ll explain how melatonin works and its uses. We’ll warn of any side effects, then advise who melatonin will help, and who it won’t.

What is melatonin?

Melatonin is a hormone that’s produced within the pineal gland of the brain, to help us maintain our circadian rhythms. When it goes dark, the gland releases melatonin, making us tired. As the sun rises, melatonin production stops, and we awake.

Melatonin is also made as prescription medicine, available in liquid and tablet form.

Melatonin uses

Melatonin is chiefly prescribed to address these three ailments:

  • Sleep problems
  • Headache prevention
  • Jetlag

When taking melatonin for headache prevention or jetlag, you should adhere to your doctor’s recommended dose.

Melatonin is a short-term treatment for sleep problems and typically will not be prescribed for more than 13 weeks. The average dose for melatonin is 2mg, which releases to your bloodstream gradually, throughout the night. Usually, you’ll first be prescribed melatonin to take only two or three nights a week. If that doesn’t have a good effect on your sleep cycle, your course may be extended.

In instances where other sleep therapies have failed, melatonin may be prescribed for children struggling with sleep disturbances related to disorders or disabilities.3

Read more: Does melatonin help with anxiety?

Who should and shouldn’t take melatonin

Melatonin is typically only prescribed to adults over 55 years of age, who haven’t experienced sleep improvement with other medications or therapies. Doctors are cautious about prescribing melatonin to those younger than 55. This is because there are concerns about how medicinal melatonin affects the hormone system.4

If your doctor is considering a course of melatonin to address your sleep ailment, be sure to tell him if you have:5

  • Illnesses of the liver or kidney
  • A history of allergic reactions to medication
  • Arthritis
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Lupus
  • Any autoimmune disorder

In rare instances, melatonin has aggravated asthma and heart complaints.6 If you’re on a course of melatonin and experienced a change in your asthma or heart condition, contact your GP immediately.

Melatonin side effects

About 1 in 100 people experience side effects to prescription melatonin. Common side effects include:

  • Drowsiness in the day
  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Dizziness
  • Irritability
  • Restlessness
  • Dry mouth
  • Dry skin
  • Sore limbs
  • Night terrors

Serious side effects, which occur in around 1 out of 1000 people, include depression, blurred vision, vertigo, unexplained bleeding and psoriasis.

If any of these side effects negatively impact your living standard and wellbeing, contact your GP immediately. Call an ambulance if your experience sudden heart pain while taking melatonin.

Are there negative effects of melatonin?

Want to know more about melatonin?

Find out how to take melatonin, as well as its possible side effects and risks.

Guide to sleeping better

Need some help with your sleep?

Check out our comprehensive guide to sleeping better, with 35 of the best research-backed tips to help you switch off.

The advice in this article is for information only and should not replace medical care. Please check with your GP or healthcare professional before trying any supplements, treatments or remedies. Food supplements must not be used as a substitute for a varied and balanced diet and a healthy lifestyle.

Last updated: 05 May 2021



Author: Bhupesh PanchalSenior Regulatory Affairs Associate

Joined Holland & Barrett: Apr 2019

Masters Degree in Toxicology and BSc Hons in Medical Biochemistry

Bhupesh started his career as a Clinical Toxicologist for Public Health England, advising healthcare professionals all around the country on how to manage clinical cases of adverse exposure to supplements, pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, industrial chemicals and agricultural products.

After 7 years in this role and a further year working as a drug safety officer in the pharmaceutical industry, Bhupesh joined Holland & Barrett as a Senior Regulatory Affairs Associate in 2019.

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