The role of Melatonin in sleep

Sleep is a state of natural unconsciousness and essential for our health and survival. When we sleep, our brains go through two stages of sleep that alternate with each other: the slow wave sleep and REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep. The slow wave sleep is the restful sleep, which is usually followed every 90 minutes by REM sleep.

Our bodies’ circadian rhythm or internal clock regulates the timing of our wakefulness and sleep patterns. Our circadian rhythm is comprised of an intricate network of nerves, specialized brain centers, hormones (including melatonin) and neurotransmitters.

Melatonin is a natural hormone produced in the pineal gland (which is located in the middle of the brain) and helps to synchronize our internal clock with our environment. It is synthesized in response to a lower amount of light being received by the retina of the eye. It is naturally synthesized from L-Tryptophan via serotonin:

L-Tryptophan ––> 5-HTP ––> serotonin ––> N-Acetyl-serotonin ––> melatonin

melatonin molecular structure

Increased melatonin levels will cause the body to become drowsy and lower its temperature, but it is the central nervous system that is responsible for the bulk of the circadian control of the body. In addition to regulating our internal clock, melatonin is a powerful anti oxidant and interacts with our immune system.

Insomnia and chronic sleep deprivation have become a huge problem in society. Factors that negatively affect our sleep are related to receiving too much light in the hours before bedtime, stress (affects our entire body), an unhealthy diet, over consumption of caffeinated beverages and alcohol.

Melatonin supplements have been available in the United States since 1993, however, some European countries and New Zealand still do not allow them.

Melatonin supplementation is an effective way to enhance sleep and synchronize our light-dark cycle and works better when used in conjunction with vitamin B6.

Other functions

Melatonin has been shown to increase the production of leptin (appetite hormone) in the presence of insulin. The increased levels of leptin will cause a decrease in appetite while we’re sleeping.

Melatonin can be helpful in controlling some of the symptoms of menopause by inhibiting the release of luteinizing hormone (LH) and follicle stimulating hormone (FSH). A few clinical studies suggest that supplementation with melatonin can prevent migraines and cluster headaches. Other studies have found that children with autism spectrum disorders may have lower levels of melatonin.

Here are a few things you could do to stimulate sleep naturally:

  1. Dim the lights a few hours before going to sleep
  2. Resists the urge to answer emails right before bedtime
  3. Reduce caffeine, sugar and alcohol in your diet
  4. Reduce stress
  5. Increase tryptophan-rich foods in your diet (e.g., turkey, rice)

Find out how our melatonin supplement can benefit your sleep.