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Melatonin: Hormone A Sleeping Beauty Aid?

No matter what makeup you put on, how you do your hair or what clothes you wear, none of it will look good unless you get your beauty sleep. So is melatonin the answer to waking up gorgeous? Here are some quick facts

What is it?

Melatonin, a hormone secreted by the pineal gland, which is found at the base of the brain, helps control other hormones as well as control the body's clock or circadian rhythms. In other words, it helps regulate when you snooze and when you wake up -- and your levels are affected by light exposure. Our bodies produce more melatonin in the dark (ie. typically when we are asleep) and less in light, so as you may already know, jet lag and shift work can throw off your melatonin levels.

The benefits of melatonin

Available in supplements, it is often recommended as a sleep aid for those who suffer from insomnia or to reduce the symptoms of jet lag. Studies from the University of Granada in Spain have found that this natural hormone works better at promoting sleep than somniferous medications.

Melatonin, which is also an antioxidant, can also be found in foods. Small amounts can be found in oats, rice and sweet corn, and in smaller amounts in foods such as bananas, tomatoes, ginger and barley. Drinking tart cherry juice may be the natural sleep potion of choice as it contains a significant quantity of melatonin. One study, published in 2011 in the European Journal of Nutrition, found that drinking two glasses of the juice helped people sleep 39 minutes more than those who did not drink the tart cherry juice (not to mention the juice drinkers experienced six percent better sleep efficiency, that is, more time sleeping than awake while in bed). And in study from 2010 published in the Journal of Medicinal Food, drinking the beverage helped alleviate insomnia symptoms and cut the time spent awake after going to bed by 17 minutes.

Besides promoting more sleep, there is also some evidence that melatonin can slow down the aging process. In a study published in the journal PloS One, researchers in France found that in tests on a small mammal (an animal called the Greater White-toothed shrew), giving the animal melatonin delayed the signs of aging typically present at 12 months of age by three months -- a significant time period given the animal's average lifespan.

The evidence is not conclusive, however, when it comes to melatonin as a natural sleep aid. A 2006 report in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) found that the hormone was not helpful in promoting sleep for secondary sleep disorders or for treating jet lag or shift work disorders, basing their findings on a study conducted at the University of Calgary.

Is melatonin the natural answer to more beauty sleep?

The BMJ report did conclude, though, that melatonin is safe to use in the short term. For those seeking more beauty sleep, as with any supplement, you should talk to your doctor first before taking it -- it can interact with other medications including antidepressants, beta blockers and blood-pressure drugs. Recommended dosage will vary from person to person based on your sensitivity, and it is possible to take too much, which will negatively interfere with your body's natural clock. Other side effects include vivid dreams and drowsiness during daytime hours.

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