When it comes to getting a good night's sleep, most people know that melatonin plays a crucial role. But what exactly is melatonin? How does it impact your body's natural sleep rhythm? Can melatonin supplements really help you fall asleep faster and achieve better sleep?
By the end of this blog post, readers will have the answers to these questions and a more solid understanding of melatonin's role in promoting healthy sleep. We will equip you with practical tips on how to enhance your melatonin levels naturally and provide tools to improve your sleep quality and overall well-being.
Melatonin is a natural hormone produced by the pineal gland located in the brain. Often referred to as the "sleep hormone," it is responsible for regulating sleep-wake cycles and plays a vital role in promoting a restful night's sleep.
In addition to regulating sleep, melatonin also has other important functions in the body. It is believed to have antioxidant properties that combat oxidative stress and may play a role in supporting the immune system¹.
Furthermore, melatonin can impact various other physiological processes, including blood pressure regulation and body temperature control, which may be important to keep in mind for those with underlying health conditions.
Melatonin affects sleep quality through its role in regulating the body's internal clock, known as the circadian rhythm. The circadian rhythm is responsible for controlling the sleep-wake cycle and coordinating various physiological processes over a 24-hour period.
This natural hormone impacts 3 different aspects of sleep: initiation, duration, and quality.
Sleep initiation. Melatonin helps initiate sleep by signaling to the brain that it's time to rest. As daylight diminishes, the pineal gland releases melatonin into the bloodstream, inducing drowsiness and preparing the body for sleep.
Sleep quality. By regulating the circadian rhythm, melatonin promotes a more structured and restful sleep². It helps align the body's sleep-wake cycle with the external day-night cycle, leading to improved overall sleep quality.
Sleep duration. Melatonin can influence the duration of sleep by promoting a more stable and continuous sleep pattern. The hormone may help maintain sleep throughout the night by increasing physiological processes needed for better sleep, including lowered alertness and core temperature³.
It's pretty amazing that the human body can naturally produce a hormone to make itself sleepy. It's make you wonder about the ins and outs of the process.Where does production occur? What factors trigger or affect production?
Let's explore some of the science behind producing melatonin for natural sleep.
As we mentioned, melatonin production occurs in the pineal gland, small, pinecone-shaped endocrine gland located deep within the brain. It releases melatonin in response to darkness, signaling to the body that it is time to sleep.
Thekey steps involved in melatonin production in the pineal gland are as follows⁴:
Perception of light. The production of melatonin is highly influenced by the perception of light. Specialized cells in the retina of the eyes called photoreceptors sense the presence or absence of light. When it gets dark, these cells signal the brain's suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) that darkness is prevailing, which then relays the information to the pineal gland.
Neurotransmitters. In response to the signal from the SCN, the gland releases neurotransmitters that act as a trigger for the production of melatonin.
Conversion of serotonin to melatonin. The gland converts serotonin, a neurotransmitter associated with mood regulation, into melatonin. This conversion occurs primarily during the night.
The production of melatonin follows a circadian rhythm.
A circadian rhythm is a natural, internal process that regulates the sleep-wake cycle and various physiological and behavioral processes in living organisms. It is often referred to as the "biological clock" as it usually aligns with the Earth's rotation and the alternation between day and night in a 24 hour period.
In alignment with this rhythm, production of melatonin rises in the evening and remains elevated during the night, promoting sleepiness and contributing to the overall regulation of the sleep-wake cycle.
Several factors can influence melatonin production in the body. Here are a few key examples:
Light exposure.When exposed to light, the SCN signals the pineal gland to reduce melatonin production. This suppression occurs during daylight hours and helps synchronize the body's internal clock with the external day-night cycle.
Darkness. In contrast to light exposure, darkness stimulates melatonin production. As the evening sets in and light levels decrease, the SCN signals the brain to begin producing melatonin, leading to drowsiness and preparation for sleep.
Seasonal changes. Melatonin production can also be influenced by seasonal changes in daylight duration. In some regions, melatonin production may be more extended during long nights of winter and shorter during summer's longer days.
Age. Melatonin production tends to decrease with age, which may explain why older adults often experience difficulty falling and staying asleep. Children and teenagers generally produce higher levels of melatonin compared to adults and older individuals.
Sleep patterns. Irregular sleep patterns, shift work, or disruptions to the sleep-wake cycle can lead to changes in melatonin secretion.
Jet lag and travel. Traveling across multiple time zones can disrupt the circadian rhythm and temporarily affect melatonin production, leading to jet lag symptoms.
While melatonin is naturally produced by the body, some individuals may benefit from melatonin supplements. However, before taking a melatonin supplement, it's important to make sure you understand the many different types of supplements available and the possible side effects associated with them.
There are various types of melatonin supplements on the market. From over the counter melatonin to dietary supplements, you can find options for taking melatonin in tablet, capsule, gummy, or pill form.
Choosing between the many different forms of melatonin natural health products may come down to a matter of personal preference. For example, those who have trouble swallowing pills may be interested in taking a gummy instead. In any case, it is essential to consult a healthcare professional before adding any type of supplement or sleep aid to your normal routine.
Like with any other supplement, finding an appropriate dosage is important when taking melatonin. In general, it may be best to start with a low dose and gradually increase if necessary. However, you should always follow the instructions provided by the supplement manufacturer or your doctor first.
Melatonin supplements are generally considered safe for short-term use when taken at appropriate dosages. But, when misused or taken without proper medical guidance, melatonin can have side effects.
Some of the possible side effects of taking a melatonin supplement include:
Daytime drowsiness. Taking melatonin at the wrong time or at too high a dose can lead to daytime drowsiness and grogginess, interfering with normal daytime functioning.
Drug interactions. Melatonin can interact with certain medications, such as blood thinners, immunosuppressants, and some antidepressants, potentially reducing their effectiveness or causing other adverse effects.
Allergic reactions. In rare cases, some individuals may experience allergic reactions to melatonin supplements.
Although melatonin supplements can be quite helpful, you should also practice good sleep hygiene and try to boost melatonin production naturally for the best results.
Exposing oneself to natural light, particularly in the morning, can help regulate the body's internal clock and promote melatonin production. You may notice sleep improvements when you make an effort to align your body's sleep and wakefulness with the natural day and night cycle.
Too much light can start to work against you. You may notice you have trouble sleeping when you spend time scrolling through your phone before bed. It is essential to limit exposure to blue light from electronic devices at night, as it can suppress your melatonin production and cause other related sleep problems⁵.
Creating a sleep-friendly environment can also enhance melatonin levels. This includes keeping the bedroom cool, dark, and quiet. Using blackout curtains, earplugs, and white noise machines may contribute to a more restful night's sleep.
Additionally, establishing a relaxing bedtime routine can signal to the body that it is time to wind down and prepare for sleep. This may involve engaging in calming activities such as reading, taking a warm bath, or practicing meditation.
If you have your sleep routine nailed down, here are a few other small lifestyle changes you can make to help you fall asleep and improve sleep quality overall.
Certain foods can naturally boost melatonin production. Foods such as eggs, fish, and nuts are rich in melatonin and can be incorporated naturally into your normal diet to promote sleep⁶.
On the other hand, it is important to limit caffeine intake, particularly in the afternoon and evening, as it can interfere with melatonin production and cause sleep disturbances. You don't have to cut out caffeine entirely, but controlling your consumption is a key part of sleep promotion.
Practicing relaxation techniques before bed can also help increase melatonin levels and promote a more restful, natural sleep. This may include deep breathing exercises, progressive muscle relaxation, or guided imagery. These techniques can help calm the mind, prepare the body for rest, and induce sleep faster.
For those who frequently have trouble falling asleep, natural sleep remedies can help. BioNeurix's Mellodyn Sleep Easy effectively relieves sleeplessness using natural ingredients. Mellodyn promotes a full night's sleep without causing grogginess or daytime sleepiness the next morning, leaving you feeling refreshed and ready to face the day.
Mellodyn contains the amount of melatonin demonstrated in multiple controlled, double-blind clinical trials to quicken sleep onset, reduce nighttime awakenings, and improve general sleep quality. The combination of melatonin with herbal ingredients promotes better sleep without forming a habit so you can rest easy knowing that you won't become dependent on Mellodyn or build a tolerance to its effects.
The body produces less melatonin with age, which may explain why older individuals sometimes have more difficulty sleeping. In fact, research suggests that middle-aged adults with higher natural levels of melatonin sleep better than those with less melatonin. For this reason, melatonin may be particularly effective in older adults who struggle with occasional sleeplessness⁷.
Regardless of age, remember to talk to your healthcare provider before taking any new sleep medicine or dietary supplement, especially if you are at an increased risk for other health issues.
The health benefits of better sleep cannot be underestimated. Good sleep boosts mood, increases focus, and produces high quality health outcomes in all areas of life, including mental, physical, and emotional health. Take care of your body and mind and embrace the natural power of melatonin to improve sleep!
(1) Reiter, Russel J, et al (October 2016) Melatonin as an antioxidant: under promises but over delivers
(2) Pandi-Perumal, Seithikurippu R, et al (2007) Role of the melatonin system in the control of sleep: therapeutic implications
(3) Dawson, D and CJ van den Heuvel (February 1998) Integrating the actions of melatonin on human physiology
(4) Masters, Alina, et al (February 2015) Melatonin, the Hormone of Darkness: From Sleep Promotion to Ebola Treatment
(5) Silvani, Marcia Ines, et al (August 2022) The influence of blue light on sleep, performance and wellbeing in young adults: A systematic review
(6) Meng, Xiao, et al (April 2017) Dietary Sources and Bioactivities of Melatonin
(7) Harvard University (2023) Researchers find sleep benefit in higher dose of melatonin