Within the human body, we have a naturally occurring hormone known as melatonin. Not only is it found in humans, but also animals, plants, and even microbes. Melatonin is naturally secreted by the pineal gland, which helps regulate our sleeping patterns. It supports our body’s natural sleep and wake cycle.
The level of melatonin that is available throughout the day depends on various factors. Since sleep is so essential, there’s a lot of positive research that’s been done on this hormone. With more and more people taking sleeping medications, natural supplements are highly desired.
Melatonin is a precursor to serotonin, which is a neurotransmitter that influences sleep, memory, appetite, and mood. Melatonin is also an effective antioxidant, which helps your body eliminate toxins. There’s also been extensive research regarding its effects on mental performance and brain health.
It is currently known as one of the most beneficial supplements for memory consolidation, creative thought, and alertness; while providing anti-aging effects. Majority of the benefits experienced, are due to increased sleep quality. Sleep has a direct effect on your overall health, both physical and mental.
As we age, the level of available melatonin begins to diminish. This affects our ability to sleep in terms of quality and duration. When you do not get enough sleep, your overall health is affected. When taking a melatonin supplement, you can improve your ability to fall asleep, stay asleep for longer periods, and enter deep states of REM sleep (which is essential for memory consolidation).
The Effects of Melatonin
Our pineal gland is located deep within the brain. When triggered, melatonin is released from this gland. The key trigger is believed to be light. The levels of light that are perceived, highly influence melatonin levels. When we process light, the secretion of melatonin is inhibited.
Have you ever gotten up in the middle of the night, turned the light on, then struggled to fall back asleep? That is because light is detected through our eyes, sending a signal to the brain. When taking melatonin as a supplement, you stimulate melatonin release, as well as other beneficial hormones.
When it’s dark, your brain is signaled, releasing melatonin. Once light hits your optic nerve, the production of this hormone is shut down. Once disrupted, it can be difficult for this cycle to begin again. When a light is turned out after a disruption occurs, melatonin production is not automatically turned back on.
The Main Benefits of Melatonin
When discussing melatonin benefits, the most obvious is one’s ability to sleep. Not only do users fall asleep more quickly, but they stay asleep longer, while increasing overall sleep quality. Users take this supplement when they need a sleep aid, or they’re experiencing lucid dreams.
It’s believed that when you take melatonin, you help relax your mind. Whenever you’ve had a stressful day, anxious thoughts may keep you awake. When you allow your mind to ‘relax,’ you are able to fall asleep more effectively. When you improve your sleeping patterns, you improve your overall health, brain balance, and memory consolidation. If you have persistent, anxious thoughts, please speak with your doctor.
When you’re lacking sleep from the night before, you’re more than likely less focused. This can create negative effects on cognitive functioning. Since melatonin helps you to fall asleep easier, it has a positive effect on your brain health and your ability to mentally perform.
As mentioned, melatonin is also an antioxidant, protecting you from damage. Free radicals are associated with cognitive decline, cancer, and other negative outcomes. Melatonin helps targets these free radicals, making them less dangerous. Unlike many other antioxidants, melatonin is able to effectively diffuse into all cells.
It’s important to protect your brain, which is the case with melatonin. It’s able to effectively cross the blood-brain barrier, which helps to directly influence the central nervous system. Supplementing with melatonin is beneficial for people of all ages, but it’s especially beneficial for older individuals.
In degenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s, it’s believed that this decrease influences these conditions. Due to oxidative stress and free radicals, these diseases are believed to develop. This is something that melatonin can directly improve.
When Should You Take Melatonin and When Should You Avoid It?
If you’re going through a major change in your sleeping schedule, then supplementing with melatonin can be highly beneficial. Jet lag for instance can create significant changes in one’s sleeping patterns. In order to combat its effects, melatonin can be used.
As we age, our bodies produce less and less melatonin naturally. This is why the older population often have trouble sleeping. If you’re over the age of 60, supplementing with melatonin can be highly beneficial. It’s important to get enough sleep, which is why supplementation can help.
If you’re not sleeping because you’re suffering some symptoms of anxiety or high levels of stress, then melatonin may not be your best option. In cases of anxiety or depression, sleeping issues do not occur because there’s a lack of melatonin. Speak with your doctor about supplements that help calm the mind.
If you have already taken melatonin earlier in the night, do not double up doses. Melatonin is powerful, so too much can affect your sleeping patterns. This could lead to waking up in the middle of the night or feeling unrested in the morning.
This is often associated with a ‘melatonin hangover,’ which creates feelings of grogginess. Since there may be residual melatonin in your system, your body may still think it’s nighttime. This is what creates feelings of fatigue, as it can be even harder to get up.
If you’ve been taking melatonin for more than two weeks, you may be experiencing sleep issues unrelated to melatonin. As mentioned, instances involving stress or depression should be treated differently. You should also avoid melatonin if you’re taking more than 1 mg each night to fall asleep. If 1 mg isn’t enough, your body may be telling you that something else is affecting your ability to sleep.
How Should I Take My Melatonin Supplement?
Although some cases require higher doses, you can generally take 0.4 to 1 mg of melatonin 90 minutes before you try to sleep. This allows for enough time, as your brain recognizes the supplement. You will begin to feel sleepy, helping you achieve a good night’s rest.
Due to the effects light creates on melatonin levels, it’s beneficial to keep the lights low or off. This will ensure that natural levels of melatonin are not inhibited. If you are experiencing sleeping issues, it doesn’t hurt to take a look at your current lifestyle.
Quality sleep is so crucial for our health and overall brain function. Think about a time when you got barely any sleep and then tried to work the next day. You more than likely had difficulties concentrating. Many individuals who suffer from sleep difficulties are now taking melatonin supplements.
What Is Melatonin?
Melatonin is naturally produced within our body. It is a hormone that is secreted by the pineal gland, which helps regulate our sleep patterns. Basically, it helps maintain our internal biological ‘clock.’ Our natural circadian rhythm is what allows us to fall asleep at night.
Melatonin production is influenced by light. When it is dark outside, the body produces more melatonin. This is what makes us feel sleepy, just as light makes us feel more awake. However, it is not only natural light that affects melatonin. Stress, aging, medications, and lights turned on within the night, can all interfere with melatonin production.
History of Melatonin
We have known of the pineal gland for thousands of years. However, it wasn’t until the late 1950’s that melatonin was discovered. In 1958, Aaron Lerner from Yale University isolated melatonin from the pineal gland. In the 1960’s, it was found that melatonin responds to light.
In the 1980’s, melatonin was intensely studied. It was during this time that researchers made the connection between melatonin and sleepiness. After several books and articles were written, it was discovered that melatonin could be found in nuts, carrots, and tomatoes. It then became available as a supplement in the 1990’s.
How Does Melatonin Work?
Melatonin production is controlled by light perception. Therefore, when it is dark outside, the pineal gland produces and releases melatonin. Once the optic nerve detects lights, the pineal gland then inhibits production. This is all done through signalling from the optic nerve, to the brain.
Do you often get up in the middle of the night and go to the bathroom? When you get up, do you turn the light on? If so, you may have trouble falling back asleep. This is because the cycle has been interrupted. Once you turn the light out, melatonin production is not automatically turned on. The pineal gland will shut down production, making it hard to fall back asleep.
It is believed that melatonin levels decrease as we age. When an individual has low levels of melatonin, sleep problems may occur. This may explain why older people go to bed and wake up earlier.
When you take a melatonin supplement, it crosses the blood-brain barrier. It easily diffuses into cells, effectively entering the central nervous system. This also makes it easy for melatonin to attach to neurons.
How Does Melatonin Benefit the Brain?
Melatonin plays a role in our brain health. Since melatonin is an antioxidant, it helps to protect your brain against free radicals. This helps decrease the effects of aging and disease. For instance, melatonin has been shown to reduce the risk of stroke, Parkinson’s, and Alzheimer’s.
In fact, when individuals suffer from a stroke, they can benefit when given a dose of melatonin. This helps reduce tissue damage, and reduce both cell and neuron death.
In terms of sleep, melatonin increases healthy sleep patterns. This is generally for people that are on an odd schedule, working irregular hours. For these individuals, they can have difficulties falling to sleep naturally. When taking melatonin, they can fall asleep more quickly and stay asleep longer, increasing the quality and duration.
Melatonin is grouped within cognitive enhancers because it can encourage deeper REM sleep. REM sleep is extremely important for cognitive functioning, especially in terms of your memory. During this time, your brain consolidates memories. For example, declarative memory and long-term retention is highly reliant on sleep.
Basically, during your REM sleep, short-term memories from that day, are redistributed, becoming long-term memories. When you have a good night sleep, you also wake up feeling sharper. You experience a greater sense of clarity, which helps with your mental performance. So although melatonin does not have a direct impact on cognitive functioning, it is still related to memory and learning.
Are there any risks associated with melatonin? It appears as though the effects are fairly mild when targeting jet lag. It is most beneficial when taken for sleep issues (i.e. delayed sleep disorder). When users take melatonin for these issues, what are the side-effects?
The most common side-effect include: sleepiness during the day, dizziness, and headaches. Although uncommon, it’s possible to experience anxiety, confusion, irritability, short-lived depression, and stomach discomfort.
It has been documented that various medications may interact with melatonin. If you’re taking blood-thinning medication, immuno-suppressants, diabetes medication, or birth control pills, please check with your doctor before beginning usage. You should also refrain from driving or using heavy machinery up to five hours after you have taken a melatonin supplement.
The recommended dose of melatonin is approximately 1 to 5 mg per day or night. The dosage depends on what your intended use is. If you suffer from a circadian rhythm sleep disorder for instance, 0.5 mg a day may be more than enough. You wouldn’t generally take 5 mg unless you were trying to combat jet lag or reduce the time it takes you to fall asleep.
It is most beneficial is you take this supplement at night, approximately half hour before you go to bed. It is not recommended that you take melatonin with alcohol or any other sedating supplements. It is also only recommended for short-term use, at no more than two months. Once again, this depends on your situation.