- Sleep is regulated by exposure to light and dark.
- light stimulates nerve pathways from the retina to a part of the brain called the hypothalamus.
- This signal then goes to the Suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN), which send signals around the body that regulates hormones, body temperature and other functions in the body that awaken or send the body to sleep.
- The SCN works like a clock, releases hormones like cortisol to wake up and delays the release of melatonin till dark, and vise versa.
What is melatonin?
- It’s a natural occurring hormone in the body that is produced by the Pineal gland.
- It’s a pea sized gland that’s inside the middle of the brain.
- During the day the pineal gland is inactive and is ‘turned on’ or stimulated when the SCN begins to produce melatonin.
- This of course causes the melatonin levels in the blood to raise causing to feel less alert.
- Melatonin levels stay raised in the body for about 12 hours and then decrease once again due to daylight, and the cycle repeats.
- Melatonin can be used as a medicine to help with insomnia to help the body back into a natural pattern.
Mistake #1: Melatonin is a sleep hormone
Melatonin on its own won’t induce sleep, and is usually only effective in short-term applications. It’s more correct to think of melatonin as a ‘darkness’ signaler, that is, it tells the brain that it needs to prepare for a night time or winter cycle.
Mistake #2: I can take melatonin at any time.
If melatonin is used during daytime brightness, it can cause adverse effects. If the body clock is receiving conflicting daytime light signals and dark signals from melatonin, it can malfunction and not work properly when it is time to go to sleep later.
Mistake #3: Melatonin is a natural supplement, so it can’t do any harm.
The wrong amounts of melatonin or melatonin at the wrong time of day can cause serious health risks. Daytime melatonin has been shown to cause depression.
Mistake #4: I need melatonin to help me sleep.
In most cases, your sleep problem isn’t from a lack of melatonin, and increasing melatonin can mask underlying problems that are the real cause of insomnia. Simply adding melatonin doesn’t fix the sleep problem and can contribute to depressive mood disorders.
Mistake #5: I need to keep taking melatonin.
Sleep experts don’t recommend taking melatonin for more than two weeks at a time. Melatonin is effective as a signal augmenter (reinforcing external cues), or as a tool to help shift sleep and circadian rhythms.
Mistake #6: The dosage amount isn’t important.
New evidence shows that adult males only need 150 micrograms, and the average female needs only 100 micrograms (a microgram is 1/100 th of a milligram).
Mistake #7: I don’t take melatonin, so I don’t have to worry.
Actually, this could be one of the costliest mistakes people make. Melatonin is an essential nighttime hormone. When in the body at the right time, it does wonderful things, such as help the heart and vital organs rest at night. Melatonin also acts as a powerful antioxidant; while it shuts the body down, it cleans the toxins and free radicals from cells.