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What is melatonin?

2 min read

Melatonin helps regulate our sleep cycles

Melatonin (N-acetyl-5-methoxytryptamine) is a hormone and antioxidant which is secreted by the pineal gland, this is a pea sized part of our brain located in the very centre. Its key role is to regulate your sleep and wake cycles i.e. your body clock.

Exposure to light affects how much melatonin your body makes, normally levels start to rise as it starts to become dark and are at their highest during night time.

Low production is linked to seasonal affective disorder (SAD)

Our natural production of melatonin is affected by light. In short winter days our melatonin production often starts earlier in the day which can make us feel tired, needing more sleep and low in energy - all typical SAD symptoms.

As we get older melatonin production decreases

It is thought that as we get older our bodies produce less natural melatonin, this is evident in the fact that generally older people have more difficulty sleeping than younger people. In some older people the amounts of melatonin produced are very little. Scientists believe this is why older adults struggle more with sleeping for the recommended amount of hours and wake up before the sun rises.

Used to help overcome jet lag and sleep disorders

When travelling across time zones or working changing shifts the bodies melatonin production can be affected which in turn affects sleep quality.

Melatonin is a natural substance which can be found in many food sources including meat, fruit and vegetables however it is only in relatively insignificant amounts. Unlike sleeping tablets which can often make the user wake up feeling drowsy, melatonin should make you wake up feeling refreshed

Melatonin can only be legally obtained by prescription in the UK

In 1995 the UK Government banned melatonin supplements from general sale on the grounds that it was a medicinal supplement and not a nutritional supplement, as it was previously known.  It cannot even be obtained from pharmacies because it does not have a licence to be sold as a medicine.  The only way to legally obtain a melatonin supplement in the UK is via a GP prescription.

Food sources of Melatonin

It is scientifically proven that the best natural source of melatonin is the Montmorency Cherry which is a variety of sour cherry. It can be widely purchased legally in the UK and is an increasingly popular sports recovery supplement. 

Other food sources which contain lesser amounts of melatonin boosting properties include:

  • Tomatoes
  • Pineapples
  • Bananas
  • Oranges
  • Oats
  • Sweetcorn
  • Rice
A healthy balanced diet is the best way to consume all the nutrients we need. Sometimes however this isn't possible and then supplements can help. This article isn't intended to replace medical advice. Please consult your healthcare professional before trying any supplements or herbal medicines.