For millions of people, melatonin might be the answer to avoiding another terrible slumber. We know that sleep is highly important to maintaining the health of the entire body and warding off acute and chronic health issues. But what is melatonin? It’s actually a hormone that is responsible for setting our sleep-wake cycle, so long as you have the proper melatonin dosage.
According to new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study, one out of three American adults are not getting enough sleep on a regular basis.
At the top of the list for melatonin common uses is definitely assistance when it comes to a good night’s rest as a natural sleep aid. Melatonin is used to treat sleep issues resulting from jet lag or insomnia, and it’s even used to help treat certain cancers.
Scientific research has shown that it can benefit cancer patients, specifically those diagnosed with breast or prostate cancer. Those are two hormonally linked cancers so it makes since that a hormone like melatonin can play a pivotal role in their treatment.
Melatonin is naturally produced by our bodies, but caffeine, alcohol and tobacco use can all lower melatonin levels in the body. So can working the night shift or having poor vision. For some people, melatonin can help get their inherent rhythms get back on track. Let’s talk more about who melatonin can help, the benefits of melatonin and what melatonin dosage is best for your particular health concern.
What Is Melatonin?
Melatonin (N-acetyl-5-methoxytryptamine) is a hormone secreted by the pineal gland in the brain. The pineal gland is located just above your middle brain and is only the size of a pea. Its synthesis and release are stimulated by darkness and suppressed by light.
Melatonin is responsible for maintaining your body’s circadian rhythm. Why is that important? Your circadian rhythm is the fancier term for your own person internal clock, which also runs on a 24-hour schedule just like the day. This internal clock plays a critical role in when we fall asleep and when we wake up.
When it’s dark, your body produces more melatonin, but when it’s light, the production of melatonin goes down. This is why people who are blind or work night hours can have problems with their melatonin levels. But for anyone, a lack of exposure to light during the day or exposure to bright lights in the evening can disrupt the body’s normal melatonin cycles.
When you’re exposed to light it stimulates a nerve pathway from the retina in the eye to an area in the brain called the hypothalamus. This where the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) is located, and the SCN initiates the turning on of the pineal gland. Once the SCN turns on the pineal gland, it starts making melatonin, which is then released into your bloodstream. The precursor to melatonin is serotonin, a neurotransmitter that’s derived from the amino acid tryptophan. Within the pineal gland, serotonin is processed to yield melatonin.
The pineal gland typically starts producing melatonin around 9 p.m. Your melatonin levels then increase sharply and you begin to feel more sleepy. If your body is running as it should, your melatonin level remains elevated while you sleep, for a total of approximately 12 hours. Melatonin levels drop, and by around 9 a.m., the level is back to a barely detectable level where it remains during the day.
Melatonin is also crucial to female reproductive health as it plays a role in controlling the timing and release of female reproductive hormones. It helps decide when a woman starts to menstruate, the frequency and length of menstrual cycles, as well as when a woman stops menstruating completely (menopause).
Young children have the highest levels of nighttime melatonin. Many researchers believe that melatonin decreases as we age. If this is true, then it could explain why older people don’t tend to sleep as well as they did when they were younger.
8 Melatonin Benefits
1. Natural Sleep Aid
Melatonin for sleep is by far its best known usage as a natural remedy. When it comes to sleep trouble, conventional medical treatment typically involves pharmaceutical drugs, but these medications frequently lead to long-term dependence and come with a laundry list of possible side effects. This is why many people want to find something more natural to help them have a more restful night’s sleep.
Research suggests that supplementing with melatonin may help people with disrupted circadian rhythms, such as people who work the night shift and people who have jet lag. Melatonin supplementation may also help individuals sleep better who have chronically low melatonin levels, like people with schizophrenia, who have poor sleep quality.
A 2012 study published in Drugs & Aging analyzed the effects of prolonged release melatonin in the treatment of insomnia in patients 55 years or older. In the European Union, two milligrams of prolonged release (PR) melatonin is approved for the treatment of primary insomnia characterized by poor sleep quality. The randomized, double-blind trial found that two milligrams of melatonin PR given one to two hours before bedtime was associated with significant improvements compared to a placebo in sleep quality and length, morning alertness, and health-related quality of life. The study also found that whether the melatonin dosage (two milligrams PR) was short- or long-term, there was no dependence, tolerance, rebound insomnia or withdrawal symptoms. (5)