Increasing knowledge of the pharmacological effects of melatonin has suggested various possible therapeutic applications for the hormone. Because, as a natural substance, melatonin cannot be patented, melatonin-related compounds have been synthesized by industrial groups. The scope of such compounds is also to specifically target the recently discovered melatonin receptor subtypes. The sleep-inducing properties of melatonin are disputed, but are distinct from those of benzodiazepines. The observed effects on sleep latency or sleep efficiency, which remain to be confirmed, could be accounted for by the effects of melatonin on core body temperature and on circadian rhythms. There is also an urgent need for safety data, both in animals and in humans, particularly when long-term use is envisaged.