Sleep disorders are a group of conditions that affect the ability to sleep well on a regular basis and cause significant impairments in social and occupational functions. Although currently approved medications are efficacious, they are far from satisfactory. Benzodiazepines, antidepressants, antihistamines and anxiolytics have the potential for dependence and addiction. Moreover, some of these medications can gradually impair cognition. Melatonin (N-acetyl-5-methoxytryptamine) is an endogenous hormone produced by the pineal gland and released exclusively at night. Exogenous melatonin supplementation is well tolerated and has no obvious short- or long-term adverse effects. Melatonin has been shown to synchronize the circadian rhythms, and improve the onset, duration and quality of sleep. It is centrally involved in anti-oxidation, circadian rhythmicity maintenance, sleep regulation and neuronal survival. This narrative review aims to provide a comprehensive overview of various therapeutic functions of melatonin in insomnia, sleep-related breathing disorders, hypersomnolence, circadian rhythm sleep-wake disorders and parasomnias. Melatonin offers an alternative treatment to the currently available pharmaceutical therapies for sleep disorders with significantly less side effects.
Keywords: Melatonin; circadian rhythm; hypersomnolence; insomnia; melatonin receptors; neuroprotective agents; parasomnias; sleep disorders; sleep-related breathing disorders.