A hormone produced in the pineal gland that plays a role in regulating biological rhythms, including sleep and reproductive cycles. In many animals, melatonin also regulates the physiological effects that occur in response to seasonal changes, such as the growth of a winter coat of fur. Chemical formula: C13H16N2O2.
A Closer Look Melatonin, a natural hormone manufactured by the pineal gland in the brain, communicates information about light to different parts of the body. It helps regulate biological rhythms and plays an important role in the reproductive cycles of many animals. In humans it is best known for helping to regulate the body's circadian sleep-wake cycle. Melatonin production is affected by light exposure to the eyes; melatonin levels rise during the night and fall during the day, becoming almost undetectable. Though it does not actually induce sleep, melatonin can have sleep-promoting effects. Experiments have shown that at high doses melatonin lowers body temperature, decreases motor activity, and increases fatigue. Melatonin production starts falling after puberty, and it can virtually disappear in the elderly, a phenomenon which could help to explain why sleep disturbances are more prevalent among older adults. Marketed as a dietary supplement and touted as a cure-all for insomnia, jet lag, and even cancer and aging, the overall effects of melatonin on human health are still largely unknown.