You don't have to be a shift worker or jet setter to have awkward or non-existent sleeping habits, but both groups suffer quite a bit. Melatonin, one of the more popular over-the-counter supplements, may be headed toward a new delivery system, a patch placed on the body with small pulses of the hormone administered throughout the evening (or day), through your skin!
I've written about this sleep aid frequently because I get so many questions on it. Many supplement companies and health food stores will claim that melatonin is a natural sleeping aid or nightcap because it "naturally" helps regulate sleep-wake cycles. Given its wide spread availability today, you'd presume it's safe and effective.
Well, that depends. Melatonin has been shown to help regulate sleep cycles in certain populations and really help out quite a few people, but like anything there are pros and cons :
• The precise mechanism of melatonin secretion in the body is not well understood. We do know, however, that melatonin isn't just about sleep-wake cycles. It's been shown to help regulate the female reproductive cycle and may also affect the onset of puberty. Children who take melatonin can suffer a delay in sexual development. (So never ever give a child a melatonin supplement.)
• This new patch study showed that men and women had different levels of melatonin in their system with the same dosage patch! So a gender difference may apply.
• Studies have pointed to melatonin's role in regulating blood flow, specifically in constricting coronary arteries.
• And it's been suggested that melatonin can increase depression in people prone to the illness.