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.