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What is Melatonin and How Does it Work?

According to statistics posted by the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH), getting sufficient sleep each night is becoming an expensive problem. Over 16 billion dollars are spent in medical costs each year to address over 80 varieties of sleep conditions. 1

In the midst of the pressing need for better sleep is an important hormone produced within the body. Melatonin is gaining greater scientific attention in the nootropic world for its capacity to regulate sleep and much more.

 width= What is Melatonin?

Melatonin is a hormone that reduces sharpness and mental acuity while awake. An increased concentration of melatonin is the way your body tells you to wind down and prepare for sleep. During the sleep phase, the body and brain facilitate chemical balance, process information acquired throughout the day, and generally rest and repair muscles from labor. As melatonin levels decline, the body begins to wake up.

In addition to improving the sleep cycle, melatonin has other important functions that are being discovered through medical science. The digestive process and menstrual cycles are also affected by this critical hormone that serves to modulate the activities of other hormones. 2

How does Melatonin Work?

As the afternoon shadows stretch further and the eyes begin detecting greater darkness through the optic nerve, the brain gives the signal to begin the relaxation process, even though bedtime may still be several hours away.

The sleep-wake cycles we follow each day are dictated by a built-in biological clock called the “circadian rhythm.” The circadian rhythm influences biological cycles taking cues from sunlight and other environmental factors to ensure perfect balance and tempo.

The circadian rhythm influences the body’s production of melatonin according to how much sunlight is received during the day. Melatonin is produced by the pineal gland and released at specific times to begin the sleep cycle.

Since melatonin is the only hormone triggered by the presence of darkness, it has been given the term “hormone of darkness.” Most often the release of the hormone of darkness begins in the late afternoon and reaches peak levels after dark when most people are asleep.

Levels of melatonin begin to drop off in the early morning preparing the body to rise for the day ahead. As you may imagine, melatonin plays a vital role in creating a quality sleep cycle. Those who suffer from sleep disorders or are suffering from an irregular daily cycle typically have lower levels of melatonin in their system.

Keeping Melatonin on Schedule  width=

Melatonin is released on a schedule, but the times and quantities of this “sleepy-time” hormone can be affected by many exterior factors and conditions. If melatonin activity is not on point, it can begin affecting many other aspects of health.

Luckily, there are just as many things that can be done to improve the body’s supply of melatonin. As mentioned, exposure to light inhibits the production of melatonin. Part of getting better sleep at night is reducing lighting levels, especially artificial electric lights and even electronic displays on HDTVs and mobile devices.

If you feel you are being overloaded with melatonin far too early in the day, open the curtains and let healthy sunlight wash away melatonin-induced drowsiness. You can greatly amplify the effect with a quick walk around the block to fill the lungs with oxygen.

Considering how easy it is to affect melatonin activities in the body it is easy to see how many modern lifestyles, professional demands and even decisions made for convenience can be sapping sleep quality.

How Melatonin Levels Can Be Disrupted

Keeping the correct levels of melatonin in operation requires following nature’s own health laws about rising, eating, and even exercising. What follows are some of the ways that natural melatonin supplies can be drained before bedtime.

Unnatural Lighting Schedules

The industrial age brought with it electric light so that work can continue well into the night, but at what cost? Lighting of all types but especially the harsh blue lights from electronic displays destroys melatonin reserves.

Age-Related Conditions

No one experiences the effects of insomnia and low-melatonin more than the elderly. Production of this important sleep-drug naturally diminishes with age.

Irregular Work Patterns

Those that work the graveyard shift or work inconsistent schedules can upset their circadian cycles and compromise their sleep habits.

Jet Lag

Never underestimate how much moving across time-zones and lines of latitude can affect the amount of sunlight you receive and how your schedule changes.

Sedentary Lifestyles

A body well-supplied with melatonin is one getting good amounts of healthy exercise, regularly!

Unhealthy Diets

Unhealthy food and eating habits can affect how the body produces its important hormones and neurotransmitters.

 width= How to Improve Melatonin Levels

The first and foremost method of addressing a poor sleep cycle is to consider all the natural ways to improve melatonin production endogenously, which means locally or within the human body. This involves considering the things that hamper production and adjusting your diet and health plans.

Keeping regular times and schedules for waking, sleeping, eating, and exercising is the best way to improve the circadian rhythms and melatonin production. There are also many foods that provide melatonin naturally to the body. Strawberries, tomatoes, oranges, and oats all contain melatonin-boosting capacities.

If natural adjustments have been made as best they can be, endogenous melatonin supplies can be bolstered through natural or synthetic supplementation. Since melatonin can be found in a wide variety of foods, it is not tightly regulated like other hormones and can be purchased without a prescription.

Precautions for Melatonin Use  width=

Melatonin supplements can be chewed, dissolved under the tongue, or swallowed and are used to address a wide variety of conditions that can affect sleep. Melatonin is for the most part considered safe but there are some undesirable side effects.

Some of the side effects of melatonin use include:

  • Depression

  • Hypertension

  • Bleeding disorders

Melatonin can also interact poorly with diabetes and can increase blood sugar levels. Those with health conditions as well as pregnant and breastfeeding mothers should exercise caution when using this supplement. Always seek medical advice before beginning any treatment plan for sleep conditions.

Final Thoughts

Having a bad sleep schedule can impact your energy, mood, productiveness and so much more. As the primary hormone for regulating sleep, melatonin can help bring a consistent, restful sleep to bring out the best in you.

PhotoCredits: IrynaImago/, ChutimaChaochaiya/, l i g h t p o e t/, TeroVesalainen/, TerryPutman/

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