Biology 202
1999 First Web Reports
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Melatonin: Miracle vs. Myth

Kathryn K. Ho

In order to discuss Melatonin as a drug and its effects on behavior we need to define Melatonin and what role it plays in relation to brain and behavior. Melatonin is a hormone that is secreted into the bloodstream by the pineal gland. The pineal gland is a small, pea sized structure near the center of the brain. Signals from the eyes regulate the secretion of Melatonin. A person's internal clock, will fluctuate between a 23-25 hour a day cycle. Therefore, our Melatonin levels decrease and increase with the rising and setting of the sun, which aid to putting an individual on a 24 hour awake/sleep cycle.(1)

The actual effects of taking Melatonin orally have been disputed for quite some time. Some facts that I had picked up were that Melatonin levels decrease with age. This decline can account for the difficulty many elderly people have with falling asleep. As the pineal gland breaks down, less and less Melatonin is being released, therefore making it more difficult to regulate the internal clock. There is still a lot of information about Melatonin that remains unknown. There is much controversy as to what the drug actually can, and does, do. Many people claim that it is capable of extending a person's life, "curing" insomnia, working as an anti-oxidant, changing a person's mood, de-stressing people, improving one's sexual life, and curing certain types of depression, but many believe otherwise. (2) I am not thoroughly convinced either way because of the contrasting opinions. I decided to make my own observations and come to my own conclusions by conducting a little experiment of my own. I am going to focus on just the effects of whether or not Melatonin will aid people in getting sleep.

Observation has always been a simple way for me to derive whether or not something actually works. But in light of our class discussion, I do not know if that is the most appropriate way to look at things. We have discussed that some behavior is internal and we do not see that on the exterior of the body. But for all intents and purposes, my observations for the effectiveness of Melatonin were external ones.

My internal clock is really messed up. I usually sleep until 9:30 in the morning, but never head off to bed before 3 or 3:30. So Melatonin looked like a very appealing idea to procure a little more sleep. My family, at my request, has also decided to partake in my little experiment. There is me, my two parents and a younger brother and younger sister.

Melatonin needs to be taken about a half hour before one heads to bed. It is recommended that one does not consume carbohydrates after taking the supplement. (3) So my family and I decided to follow these simple instructions.

After a week of these supplements, what did we see? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. There were no signs of induced sleepiness. There were no signs that anyone was anymore tired than they were before taking the Melatonin. In my younger brother's case there were even signs of increased anxiety. Nor did any parties get any more restful sleep due to the supplement. Overall, the Melatonin did little to instigate any reactions whatsoever. So to take this apart, from a scientific point of view, we need to look at these results more closely. Does this input truly have no output? Is the output an internal one? Or are we, as subjects, victims of an "anti-placebo effect"? I personally feel that, after all these discussions in class, there has to be some output to inputting these supplements. But then to look at it from another perspective, are we altering the output by adding additional inputs? Could preconceived assumptions such as "This is not going to work" serve as an additional input? If they do, then we can make an inference that that assumption could indeed serve as an inhibitor, inhibiting any effects that the Melatonin itself might display. I realize that the observations that I made within my small observational pool cannot be generalize to a larger population, but was just used to highlight any effects that might exist.

These are ideas, especially the placebo effect, that I think I would like to pursue in further detail. There are too many loose ends in regards to the true effects of Melatonin. I realize that all drugs/supplements have different effects on different people and that might be why there is such discrepancies between individuals, but I feel that there has to be more accurate, concrete, known effects that Melatonin does possess.

WWW Sources


2)Frequently Asked Questions About Melatonin,


Other interesting sources for general information:

4)Melatonin: Nature's Sleeping Pill,

5)Melatonin: Sleep Hormones,

6)Melatonin, ANY

7)Melatonin: Nature's Sleep Aid,

8)Melatonin Central's FAQ,

9)Melatonin: A Chemical Slumber Switch,

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This paper reflects the research and thoughts of a student at the time the paper was written for a course at Bryn Mawr College. Like other materials on Serendip, it is not intended to be "authoritative" but rather to help others further develop their own explorations. Web links were active as of the time the paper was posted but are not updated.

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