The pineal gland is a very small gland in your brain shaped like a pinecone, which is where it gets its name. It is part of the endocrine system. It produces a hormone called melatonin.
What does melatonin do?
Melatonin helps your body control sleep patterns and your body’s day and night cycle (your internal body clock).
Melatonin levels are highest before the time you usually go to sleep and lower during the day.
Melatonin also has an impact on the hormones that affect fertility and a woman’s period.
What medical conditions are related to the pineal gland?
Medical conditions related to the pineal gland are very rare. However, tumours of the pineal gland may cause symptoms such as a change in vision, headaches, nausea or seizures.
If you are suspected of having a pineal gland tumour, you will need to see a specialist for further advice.
Melatonin supplements and sleep
Because the hormone melatonin is important in sleep, sometimes people take a melatonin supplement to help them sleep. This might be in situations where someone is travelling and having difficulty adjusting to a new time zone ('jet lag') or adjusting to working on a night shift. However, there is still a lot that we don’t know about melatonin and more research needs to be done to understand how it works within the body.
If you are thinking about taking a melatonin supplement, you should discuss this with your doctor first to see what is advisable in your particular situation.
More informationLearn more about the endocrine system and the different hormones released by the endocrine glands.
Last reviewed: December 2016