Melatonin is a hormone that has a crucial role in regulating the sleep-wake cycle, also known as the circadian rhythm. It’s produced by the pineal gland in the brain, primarily in response to darkness. Melatonin levels typically rise in the evening, signaling to the body that it’s time to prepare for sleep, and decrease in the morning, signaling it’s time to wake up. Melatonin is also available as a dietary supplement, often used to treat insomnia or help manage sleep disorders, especially for people who have irregular schedules or suffer from jet lag, more on that in a little bit.
Interestingly, melatonin is also involved in other bodily functions like regulation of body temperature, blood pressure, and even some hormone levels. Plus, melatonin also has antioxidant properties and plays a part in supporting the immune system.
Now, the effective dosage of melatonin can vary widely among individuals. It’s usually taken in a pill form, either by itself or blended with other compounds. Regardless, the timing of the dose is imperative for its effectiveness in sleep regulation.
The Discover of Melatonin and Its History
Melatonin, often known as the “sleep hormone”, has a rich history that intertwines with the evolution of scientific understanding about sleep and biological rhythms.
Here’s an overview of its history:
- Discovery and Early Research (1950s-1970s): Melatonin was first isolated in 1958 by dermatologist Aaron B. Lerner and his colleagues at Yale University. They extracted it from the pineal gland of cows and found that it could lighten frog skin, indicating its potential role in skin pigmentation. In the 1960s and 1970s, research expanded to explore its role in regulating circadian rhythms and sleep patterns.
- Understanding Melatonin’s Role (1980s-1990s): During this period, scientists gained a deeper understanding of melatonin’s role in the body. They discovered that it is produced in response to darkness and helps regulate the body’s sleep-wake cycle, or circadian rhythm. This was a significant advancement in understanding how biological rhythms are controlled.
- Medical and Commercial Use (1990s-Present): The 1990s saw a surge in interest in melatonin as a dietary supplement. Its popularity soared due to its perceived benefits in treating sleep disorders, jet lag, and even as an anti-aging agent. It became widely available over-the-counter in many countries.
- Ongoing Research and Developments: Recent research has expanded to explore melatonin’s potential role in various medical conditions. Its antioxidant properties have also garnered interest.
How is Melatonin Created?
The production of melatonin is influenced by light exposure. Exposure to light, especially blue light from screens, at night can disrupt its production and consequently affect sleep quality. Its synthesis and release in the body are quite fascinating. In fact, this synthesis process below is what makes melatonin a key factor in regulating sleep and maintaining the body’s internal clock, contributing to various physiological functions.
So, here’s a brief overview of how melatonin is created:
- Starting Point – Tryptophan: The process begins with the essential amino acid tryptophan. Tryptophan is obtained through diet and is the starting material for melatonin synthesis.
- Conversion to Serotonin: Tryptophan is first converted into 5-hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP), which is then decarboxylated to produce serotonin, a neurotransmitter that is well-known for its role in mood regulation.
- Transformation into Melatonin: In the pineal gland, which is located in the brain, serotonin undergoes further chemical changes. When it gets dark, serotonin is converted into N-acetylserotonin by the enzyme serotonin N-acetyltransferase. Finally, N-acetylserotonin is methylated by the enzyme hydroxyindole O-methyltransferase (HIOMT) to produce melatonin.
- Regulation by Light: The synthesis and release of melatonin are heavily influenced by light. Light exposure to the retina is communicated to the pineal gland via the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) of the hypothalamus, which controls the circadian rhythms. During the night, or in darkness, the pineal gland is stimulated to produce melatonin, while light inhibits this process.
- Circadian Rhythm and Release: The production of melatonin is closely tied to the body’s circadian rhythm. Its levels rise in the evening, peak during the night, and decrease with the onset of dawn, helping to regulate the sleep-wake cycle.
- Other Factors: Various factors like age, exposure to light at night, and certain lifestyle habits can influence melatonin production.
What Tests Can Measure Melatonin Levels?
Your physician can check your melatonin levels with a simple blood test, urine test, or a saliva test (not a common test).
What are Normal Melatonin Levels?
Normal melatonin levels in the human body vary depending on the time of day and individual factors like age and overall health. Generally, melatonin levels are low during the day and rise in the evening as darkness sets in, peaking during the night. This increase in melatonin is what helps induce sleep. Below is a rough guideline for typical melatonin levels:
- Daytime Levels: Usually quite low, often undetectable or just slightly detectable.
- Evening Onset: Levels begin to rise in the evening, typically around 9 p.m. or as darkness starts to fall.
- Nighttime Peak: The highest levels occur between 2 a.m. and 4 a.m., typically in the range of 20 to 50 pg/mL (picograms per milliliter) in young adults.
- Age Factor: Melatonin levels naturally decline with age, which is one reason why older adults may experience more sleep issues.
Note: These are average values and can vary based on individual circadian rhythms and environmental factors like light exposure. Additionally, certain conditions or medications can also affect melatonin levels. For precise evaluation and interpretation of melatonin levels, consulting with your doctor is recommended.
What Conditions are Related to Certain Melatonin Issues?
- Sleep Disorders: The most direct link is with sleep disorders. Insufficient melatonin production can lead to difficulties in falling asleep or staying asleep, such as insomnia. Conversely, excessive melatonin can cause excessive sleepiness.
- Circadian Rhythm Disorders: These include conditions like delayed sleep phase disorder (DSPD) and advanced sleep phase disorder (ASPD), where the sleep-wake cycle is significantly shifted due to altered melatonin production and release.
- Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD): This mood disorder is associated with changes in seasons and daylight exposure, influencing melatonin levels. Reduced daylight in winter can lead to increased melatonin production, contributing to symptoms of depression.
- Jet Lag: Travel across time zones can disrupt the body’s internal clock, including melatonin production, leading to sleep disturbances and other jet lag symptoms.
- Shift Work Disorder: People who work night shifts or rotating shifts often experience disruptions in their melatonin production, leading to sleep disturbances and other health issues.
- Age-Related Sleep Changes: As people age, melatonin production naturally decreases, which can affect sleep patterns and overall sleep quality.
- Certain Neurological Disorders: Some conditions like Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia can affect the regulation of melatonin, impacting sleep.
- Mental Health Disorders: Issues with melatonin production or regulation can be linked to various mental health conditions, such as depression and bipolar disorder, although the exact relationship is complex and not fully understood.
- Endocrine Disorders: Since melatonin is a hormone, disorders of the endocrine system can sometimes impact its production and secretion.
- Certain Medications and Substances: Some medications and substances can affect melatonin levels, either by inhibiting its production or altering its effects in the body.
How Does Melatonin Affect a Person’s Body?
Melatonin has multiple effects in terms of how it reacts within the human body. Its long-term effects though are the subject of ongoing research. However primary effects from studies conducted do show some interesting effects.
Effect #1: Sleep Regulation
Melatonin levels naturally rise in the evening, signaling the body to prepare for sleep. It helps regulate the timing of when sleep occurs but does not necessarily induce sleep. Again, it’s often used as a supplement to treat sleep disorders, such as insomnia or jet lag.
Effect #2: Antioxidant Properties
Melatonin acts as a powerful antioxidant. It can neutralize harmful free radicals and supports the immune system. Its antioxidant effect is believed to be particularly beneficial for brain health.
Effect #3: Eye Health
Melatonin is thought to be important for eye health, as it has high concentrations in the eyes. It may help prevent age-related damage.
Effect #4: Hormonal Balance
Melatonin influences the release of other hormones in the body, impacting the regulation of reproductive hormones in particular. Its levels can affect menstrual cycles and menopause.
Effect #5: Mood Regulation
There is some evidence that melatonin can affect mood and may be helpful in treating mood disorders like seasonal affective disorder (SAD) and depression, though more research is needed in this area.
Effect #6: Temperature Regulation
Melatonin can have a mild hypothermic effect, slightly lowering body temperature. This drop in temperature can signal to the body that it’s time to sleep.
What are Melatonin’s Side Effects?
While melatonin supplements are generally considered safe for short-term use, they can have side effects like headaches, dizziness, or nausea. Long-term effects are not well-studied, so it’s crucial to use them under medical supervision.
Try OhMy!Mints Chewable Melatonin Mint for Sleep!
Our 2mg Melatonin sleep mints combine the helpful sleep ingredients of Melatonin, Magnesium Glycinate, and L-Theanine to create what we think is the best sleep supplement. We do this by infusing these sleepy ingredients into individually cut mints that dissolve in your mouth. This is important because it skips the long process of passing through the digestive system and instead absorbing through the salivary system also known as the sublingual buccal system. Some people can’t swallow pills easily, so we made these chewable melatonin mints that can either be chewed or dissolved in the mouth avoiding the anxiety that comes with swallowing a pill that some have.
Again, please consult your doctor before starting a regimen that includes melatonin.