Who discovered it?Melatonin was discovered in 1958 by the American physician Aaron B. Lerner. The researcher and dermatologist succeeded in chemically identifying and isolating the active ingredient. The hormone is produced in the body from the tissue hormone serotonin. Lerner had previously researched the pigmentation of the skin for a long time and, among other things, isolated the “melanocyte-stimulating hormone” that regulates the brown color of the skin. He called the newly discovered substance “melatonin” because of its structure, which is similar to serotonin. Based on self-experiments, he reported for the first time on a sedative effect of melatonin in humans.

How does it work?Melatonin is an endogenous hormone and is produced by the pineal gland, a part of the diencephalon. It influences the sleep-wake behavior of living beings. Melatonin is released in the dark – that’s why we get tired in the evening. The concentration of melatonin in the blood slowly increases. It peaks in the middle of the night, around two or three o’clock. The hormone concentration then drops again in the early morning hours.

How does it work?Melatonin not only influences the sleep-wake cycle, but also other biological functions of the body such as blood pressure or kidney function. However, the effect of melatonin is not yet fully understood. The body’s own melatonin also seems to have an effect on feelings such as fear or the immune system. Due to the broad effect, the intake should be carefully considered, say experts. Side effects such as headaches, nausea and fatigue are known. There are a few preparations that are approved as medicines for the treatment of sleep disorders in people over 55, these are only available in pharmacies. According to the Federal Institute for Drugs and Medical Devices (BfArM), preparations that can be bought over the counter in drugstores often contain so much melatonin that, based on scientific studies, they actually require approval as a drug. On the other hand, the manufacturers complain.