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Why Is Melatonin Banned in the UK?

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There is often a lot of uncertainty when it comes to the legality of melatonin, with many people left confused as to whether it is safe to obtain it. Here’s more information on melatonin, and the reasons why people take it.

What Is Melatonin?

Melatonin is a hormone that naturally occurs within the body. It is produced by the brain in response to darkness.

Melatonin can help to control your sleep patterns and therefore supports the timing of our circadian rhythms – our 24-hour internal body clock. Those who have been exposed to bright light at night, for example, will have reduced melatonin production.

Some people choose to take a man-made form of melatonin to assist with sleep problems. However, this is not legal in all countries.

Why Is Melatonin Banned?

Melatonin is both safe and legal in the UK, however, due to the Medicines & Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency, the high-street sale of melatonin is banned. Although you could once purchase melatonin supplements in health shops, the high-street sale of the hormone is now illegal, and you must now have a prescription to obtain it, as it is classified as a medicine. This enables healthcare professionals to accurately ascertain a person's suitability for melatonin, as well as the appropriate dosage, to ensure they are taking the hormone safely.

What Can Melatonin Help With?

Here are some of the common reasons melatonin is used and why:

Jet Lag

Those who have travelled long distances will have probably experienced the effects of jet lag. Jet lag, also known as jet lag disorder, is a temporary sleeping problem that affects people who have travelled across multiple time zones in a short space of time.

As a result of this, the body’s circadian rhythms (which signal to the body when it’s time to stay awake and when to go to sleep) are confused and out of sorts, due to still being synced to their original time zone, as opposed to the one you have recently travelled to. This means that the more time zones you cross, the more intense your jet lag will be.

Jet lag leads to fatigue, irritability, digestive problems and of course, severe disruption to sleeping patterns. Melatonin, however, can often be beneficial for people suffering from jet lag, helping them fall asleep and in turn, get back to their normal sleeping pattern.

Children Who Suffer From Sleeping Disorders

There is a strong connection between a child’s sleeping pattern and their behaviour the next day. For children who suffer from certain conditions including asthma, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, autism spectrum disorder and atopic dermatitis, managing to get a full night’s sleep can often feel impossible.

While melatonin is used to aid sleep, it’s important to speak to your child’s GP about the hormone, as it may not be suitable for them in terms of their development. There is still a lot of research to be done regarding children using melatonin supplements, so there are a lot of gaps in knowledge with regards to the overall effect and success of the hormone for children.

Those Who Suffer From Delayed Sleep-Wake Phase Disorder

Delayed sleep-wake phase disorder, more commonly referred to as DSWPD, is a condition that causes people to struggle to fall asleep at usual times, and instead means that they rarely manage to fall asleep before 2am each morning. This results in them also struggling to wake up at a reasonable time the next day, due to exhaustion. Research has shown that melatonin can aid the sleeping patterns of those suffering from DSWPD, with studies revealing a better sleep for a third of the night after taking the hormone.

Further Information

Here are some of the key facts to be aware of about melatonin:

  • Melatonin is usually prescribed for 1-4 weeks
  • The hormone is generally used to treat sleep problems in adults aged 55 or over, though can be given to those under 55 or children if recommended by a doctor
  • It is recommended that you avoid smoking or drinking alcohol while taking melatonin, as both can prevent the effectiveness of the medicine
  • Side-effects of melatonin for some people may include headaches, sickness, irritability or feeling tired the next day
  • Melatonin is available as both slow-release tablets and as a liquid

  • You can buy Circadin, a prescription-only product that contains melatonin.

Melatonin isn’t suitable for everyone, so be sure to tell your doctor if any of the following apply to you, so that they can make an accurate judgement on your suitability for the hormone:

  • You have liver or kidney problems
  • You have rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, lupus or any other autoimmune condition
  • You have ever had an allergic reaction to melatonin, or other medicines in the past