Melatonin - The Sleep Hormone
What is Melatonin and what does it do?
Melatonin is a hormone produced by the pineal gland, a pea-sized gland located in the centre of our brain (also responsible for the production of Serotonin). Melatonin helps regulate our body’s circadian rhythm – basically, our 24-hour biological clock, which determines our night/day, sleep/wake cycles.
When our surroundings are dark, the body produces Melatonin, which helps signal the body to prepare for sleep. It has sometimes been dubbed the Dracula Hormone as it only comes out at night.
At the other end of the scale, light decreases Melatonin production and signals the body to prepare for being awake.
Melatonin is made from an essential amino acid called tryptophan found mostly in milk and dairy products. Hence, a warm glass of milk before bed assisting with the journey to the land of nod.
How does natural Melatonin production get disrupted?
- If you are exposed to too little light during the day or too much light in the evening, the normal body’s cycles will be disrupted. The main culprits for this are shift work and jet lag.
- Poor vision can also cause melatonin production to get disrupted.
- Higher levels of melatonin are released when we reach our 'deep sleep' phase usually after 2-3 hours of continuous sleep. However, if you are wakeful during the night and don’t reach the deep sleep phase, your brain will not produce enough melatonin to allow us to sleep through until morning.
Do Melatonin levels decline with age?
Young children have the highest levels of night-time Melatonin as they require more sleep than we do as adults. Initially, some researchers believed that Melatonin levels declined with age - levels peaked at age 20 and gradually decreased to 20% by age 80. Recent evidence, however, suggests that melatonin levels don't actually decline with age, however levels peak earlier as we get older – possibly explaining why older adults go to bed earlier and wake earlier than children.
What conditions can Melatonin help with?
- As a natural sleep aide - Melatonin has been found to lessen the time it takes to fall asleep, lengthen sleep duration, therefore reducing daytime tiredness, and boosting alertness during the day.
- Assisting healthy sleep patterns in children with developmental disorders e.g. Autism Spectrum Disorder ASD
- Antioxidant - Besides its function as synchronizer of the biological clock, melatonin also exerts a powerful antioxidant activity. Research suggests that it may help boost the immune system.Helping blind and visually impaired people establish a day and night cycle.
- Jet Lag - Travel across different time zones disrupts our 24-hour clock. Some research suggests that melatonin supplements can decrease jet-lag symptoms if started on the day of travel and taken at the desired bedtime at the destination.
- Drug withdrawal - Studies suggest that melatonin may be helpful in easing withdrawal symptoms of dependency to benzodiazepines and smoking.
- Melatonin may be helpful to relieve cluster headaches
- Melatonin is also being studied as a potential treatment for cancer, depression and other diseases and disorders.
Melatonin Supplementation in NZ…
Melatonin, in supplement form is currently a Prescription Only Medicine in New Zealand. However, there are naturally occurring sources of Melatonin.
Natural sources of Melatonin include…
- Tryptophan rich foods include milk and dairy products but also sweet corn, rice and oats.
- In lesser amounts, Melatonin is found in ginger, barley, grapes, tomatoes and bananas.
- Melatonin is also found in olive oil, certain herbs (cardamom, fennel, coriander) and some nuts and seeds (almonds and sunflower seeds). However, this is only in trace amounts.
- The richest source of naturally occurring Melatonin is the humble cherry.
Melatonin and Cherries…
Preliminary research results released in 2012 show that sweet cherries grown in New Zealand’s sun-rich Central Otago region are a natural source of melatonin at levels over 30 times higher than other cherry varieties grown in the Northern Hemisphere’s major cherry production regions.
How to ensure healthy Melatonin levels and sleep patterns naturally?
- Eat tryptophan rich foods – ensure adequate dairy protein in your diet
- Ensure you are sleeping in a completely dark room to allow a healthy melatonin production
- Keep lighting dim in the evening, and avoid bright lights in the evening from computers/TV etc.
- Expose your eyes to some direct sunlight during daytime
- Avoid stress as high stress levels can inhibit melatonin release
- Try a natural source of Melatonin e.g. Tart Cherry Extract - Research conducted at the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio confirmed that, in particular, Montmorency tart cherries contain "an extremely significant quantity of melatonin - enough to produce positive results in the body."
Tart Cherry Natural Melatonin products available at Healthyonline include:
Sleep Support Tart Cherry Concentrate - Made from 100% Natural Canadian Montmorency Tart Cherry Juice. Nothing else added. Contains significant levels of natural Montmorency Tart cherries have a low glycemic index of 54, suitable for many diabetics.
Tart Cherry Sleep Capsules - Two capsules an evening provides an effective dosage of 25mcg of melatonin, the amount of melatonin secreted by the body per evening in healthy adults.