Melatonin, chemically N-acetyl-5-methoxytryptamine, is a substance found in animals, plants, fungi and bacteria. In animals it is a hormone that anticipates the daily onset of darkness; however in other organisms it may have different functions. Likewise, the synthesis of melatonin in animals differs from that in other organisms.
In animals, melatonin is involved in the entrainment (synchronization) of the circadian rhythms of physiological functions including sleep timing, blood pressure regulation, seasonal reproduction and many others. Many of melatonin's biological effects in animals are produced through activation of melatonin receptors, while others are due to its role as a pervasive and powerful antioxidant, with a particular role in the protection of nuclear and mitochondrial DNA.
The hormone can be used as a sleep aid and in the treatment of some sleep disorders. It can be taken orally in liquid form as well as capsules or tablets in immediate- or prolonged-release form. It is also available in a form to be used sublingually, and as transdermal patches. Melatonin is sold over-the-counter in the U.S. and Canada. In other countries it may require a prescription or it may be unavailable.