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Melatonin Side Effects And Depression

Melatonin is a naturally occurring hormone produced by the pineal gland in the brain.  Melatonin is produced when our eyes sense the onset of darkness; it signals our bodies to prepare for sleep.  Blood pressure dips, there is a decrease in body temperature and we begin to feel sleepy. Melatonin is often referred to as the hibernation hormone because it regulates our bodies’ circadian rhythm.  Melatonin is available as a temporary sleep aid; and when used as directed for short periods of time, melatonin side effects are few and mild.  However, studies have linked melatonin to mood disorders; excessive levels of daytime melatonin can cause depression and sleep issues.

Melatonin is normally released by the pineal gland in the evening as it begins to get dark; we begin to feel tired and withdraw. This allows us to sleep, but if it is necessary to be awake with melatonin in our systems we become lethargic, irritable and moody.  This explains why shift work and jet lag can be so debilitating.  This also explains why depression rates are higher in darker climates.

There are other factors that can cause our bodies to produce excessive melatonin or to produce melatonin during daylight hours. Trauma, stress, injury, age and lack of light can cause the body to produce melatonin at inappropriate times; too much melatonin during the day and not enough at night.  If you experience any of the following symptoms, you may be suffering from a melatonin imbalance:  Tiredness of lethargy during the day, social or physical withdrawal, irritability or excessive sleepiness or insomnia.

The release of melatonin is triggered by photoreceptors in the eye; this is how the approaching darkness signals the brain to stop producing active daytime hormones such as serotonin and to begin the production of melatonin.  Therefore, specialized light therapy is being studied as a treatment for depression.  Specialized bright light not only suppresses the production of melatonin but is the only natural way of triggering the brain to produce serotonin and other active neurotransmitters.

Studies have shown that patients diagnosed with depression responded to specialized light therapy within a week, versus several weeks for standard antidepressants.  Specialized light is non-addictive and causes none of the negative, long-term side effects of other depression medications.  However, the greatest benefit was achieved when light therapy was used in conjunction with medication; most people responded better to the combination than to light or medication alone.  The quality of the response was greater and the side effects were minimized. There is a relationship between melatonin and depression, however, depression is a serious disease and should be treated by a qualified medical professional.