There are countless environmental, physical, mental, and emotional factors that influence our sleeping patterns on a day to day basis. When considering these various triggers, regardless of which one each person deals with each night, we can confidently say that everyone needs one, underlying element for sleep – melatonin.
Let’s call melatonin your sleeping secret weapon. If you had a team of hormones, melatonin would be your star player. When you think of melatonin as a sleep aid, your sleeping habits will change drastically to accommodate the natural powers that melatonin has.
What Is Melatonin?
Melatonin is a natural hormone in your body that is produced by the pineal gland in the brain. Melatonin’s primary responsibility is the regulation of your sleep-wake cycle. When someone refers to your “internal clock” they are referring to your body’s natural control of melatonin production. This is why some people are morning people and some people are night owls! Everyone’s internal clock is unique and thus, everyone’s melatonin production varies.
Generally, melatonin production levels are low in the morning and throughout most of the day. They start to rise towards the late evening and remain at a high level throughout the night hours.
Apart from the unique makeup of your body and its functioning, there are also many environmental triggers that effect your sleep cycle and your melatonin production.
The window of opportunity for sleep is sometimes short. Your body will begin to produce more melatonin around 10:00pm (on average) and if you inhibit this production or do not embrace it in time, the window is often lost and you’ll have a restless night’s sleep ahead of you.
Number One Melatonin Rule: Melatonin is sometimes referred to as the “Dracula of hormones” because it’s released naturally in your body as a response to darkness; it only comes out at night! You can probably guess that one of the environmental triggers that interferes most with melatonin production is light. Exposure to light stimulates a nerve pathway from the retina in your eye to an area in your brain called the hypothalamus. There, a special centre called the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) initiates signals to other parts of the brain that control hormones, body temperature, and other functions that play a role in making us feel sleepy or wide awake.
In other words, don’t spend your last waking minutes before bed in front of the TV, on your cell phone, or on the computer.
How to Raise Melatonin Naturally: Melatonin as a Sleep Aid
In order to raise your melatonin levels, you have to encourage its production! Here’s a brief list of lifestyle changes that will raise your melatonin production significantly and lend a huge hand in your quest for a great night’s sleep.
– Sleep in a dark room (you shouldn’t be able to see anything but the outline of furniture)
– Wear a sleep mask if darkness is not possible in your bedroom
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– No screen time for at least 30-60 minutes before bed
– Do not turn on the lights when you get out of bed to go to the washroom
– Eat nuts and seeds before bed (high in tryptophan, which turns into melatonin)
– Melatonin supplements
Why Is Melatonin so Important For Your Health?
Now we know what melatonin is capable of when it comes to bedtime, but we haven’t discussed the other health benefits that melatonin brings. Studies have shown that melatonin also has the capacity to improve cancer treatment outcomes, protect your nervous system against diseases like Alzheimer’s, and also prevent chronic migraines.
Melatonin is a natural hormone in the human body but it’s also a powerful antioxidant. Melatonin has the power to protect the fats and proteins in your body from free radical damage because it can easily diffuse into cells and cross your blood-brain barrier. This allows melatonin to act as guard against the deterioration of the brain.
Providing your body with melatonin through supplements and food becomes vital the older you get since your body’s natural melatonin production withers with age. Without melatonin, your body and brain becomes vulnerable to neurodegenerative diseases because it isn’t there to protect your brain against oxidative stress.
Melatonin has been proven to decrease cognitive deterioration and the melatonin production in Alzheimer’s patients is always extremely low, if not nonexistent.
Cancer Fighting Properties
Melatonin has been shown to fight breast, liver, prostate, lung, and brain cancers. Studies illustrate that women who failed to respond to tamoxifen treatment who received melatonin supplements demonstrated an improved response to the tamoxifen.
Melatonin also has been shown to help fight hormone responsive breast cancers by disrupting the aromatase enzyme responsible for estrogen synthesis. More recently, prostate cancer cases have also benefited from melatonin supplementation because the hormone was able to reduce the number of cancer cells.
Lastly, and not to be forgotten, is the protection that melatonin provides from chemotherapy toxicity. In a study with a group of people undergoing chemotherapy for a year, those who took melatonin supplements throughout showed a higher rate of survival than those patients who didn’t take a supplement.
A recent study showed promising results for those of you who suffer from chronic migraines. In the study, 34 migraine sufferers were given a small dose of melatonin 30 minutes before they went to sleep for 3 months. At the end of the 3 months, more than two thirds of the participants showed a 50% drop in the number of migraines per month.
On top of that, the headaches that did occur were less intense and were of a shorter duration. Scientists believe it is the anti-inflammatory powers that protected the patients’ bodies from migraine-causing free radicals.
Overall, it’s clear that melatonin has a wide variety of preventative, protective, and proactive powers on the human body. The fact that our body produces this hormone itself goes to show the need for it in a healthy life.
If you’re interested in melatonin supplements, always, always discuss your options with a physician first, as they know you, your health history, and your body the best. Every person is unique, but every person deserves a wonderful night’s sleep.
1) Pizzorno J, Murray, M. Textbook of Natural Medicine, 4th Ed. Churchill Livingstone. 2012.
2) Mercola, J. Melatonin Regulates Our Cycles, Mood, Reproduction, Weight and May Help Combat Cancer. http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2013/10/10/melatonin.aspx
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