The natural hormone melatonin has several recently proven health benefits, but one stands out as the most immediate and practical use.
Melatonin is a hormone directly related to regulating the sleep cycle, and is produced by the body when light levels are low, and switched off when light levels are high. Now available as an over-the-counter supplement, you may seek it out as a sleep aid instead of the more common Benadryl or Ambien. But does it actually work?
For insomnia, it has limited usefulness. While several studies have been published showing no difference between insomniacs who took melatonin as opposed to those who took a placebo, it may still have some effect for you if you are suffering temporary insomnia. Some users on the popular health forum Healthboards.com have reported that it did not help them fall asleep as well as a traditional sleeping pill, but it did help them feel tired, sleepy, and ready for bed.
Other users reported greater success with a smaller dosage. For instance, one woman tried 1 mg, then 2, then 3. No effect. She then tried 1/2 a mg and it worked well for her.
There may be somewhat of a subjective process with this supplement. In other words, if you have insomnia, try it for yourself and see if it helps. And experiment with the lower doses. Even if it isn't effective for your insomnia, there is one sleep disorder that it is invariably successful at treating.
And that would be jet lag. Long airline flights can throw your sleep cycle so out of sync that melatonin can get you back into a regular pattern much quicker than just time. This is the best use of melatonin that exists, and it's aligned with its main purpose in the human body.
While I highly recommend the use of melatonin for the occasional insomnia, there is no guarantee it will work for you. But if it doesn't, try a few different amounts of the supplement, and even see if a much lower dose works better. If you are going to be on a long flight, though, melatonin can be quite a useful supplement, re-aligning your circadian rhythm with your new day and night cycle.