- The Sleep Hormone: Melatonin is most well-known for its role in inducing sleep
- Melatonin secretion is disrupted during jet-lag and stress.
- Low levels of melatonin is a common cause for insomnia.
- Melatonin is a powerful antioxidant that protects the brain from damage by free radicals.
- Natural levels of melatonin decline during aging, increasing risk for neuro disorders.
- Melatonin is produced from tryptophan found naturally in turkey, bananas, and chicken.
- Melatonin is also available in supplement form as a tablet or liquid.
What is melatonin?
Melatonin (N-acetyl-5-methoxytryptamine) is a hormone that is mainly produced in the pineal gland. The pineal gland is a pea-sized organ found in the middle of the brain. The pineal gland secretes melatonin and acts as the timekeeper of the human body. Melatonin signals the brain and other organs regarding the active and resting periods. Hence, melatonin is also known as the “sleep hormone”.
Quick Fact: The pineal gland is comprised of cells that respond to light and darkness.
Generally, melatonin levels are low during the day and peaks at around 2-3 am in the morning and starts declining until morning. However, this may vary depending on the age of the individual.
How it works
The exact mechanism by which melatonin helps inducing sleep in unclear. However, this hormone does promote activities in the body that helps people fall asleep.
Quick Fact: How melatonin works in the body: Increased melatonin = Better Sleep; Decreased Melatonin = Poor Sleep
- Calms down nerve activity in the brain by binding to receptors which help reduce nerve activity.
- Induces sleep by reducing dopamine levels in the eye.
- Induces sleep in dark environments by increased melatonin production
Melatonin and neurodegenerative disorders
Melatonin is a powerful antioxidant. It is an efficient free radical scavenger, and protects the brain from oxidative damage in healthy individuals as well as those recovering from stroke or traumatic brain injury.
- Melatonin deficiency is linked to various neurological conditions:
- Melatonin deficiency is one of the earliest indicators of Alzheimer’s Disease.
- Low melatonin is linked to Parkinson\'s disease via abnormal oxidation and inflammatory protein accumulation.
- Low melatonin is linked to increased risk of stroke due to increased free radical production and oxidative damage to the brain cells.
What are the natural sources of melatonin?
The chemical precursor of melatonin is the amino acid tryptophan. Some important sources of tryptophan include:
- Some natural sources of melatonin are:
The pineal gland responds to darkness by producing melatonin. Blood levels of melatonin are low during the day, and peaks between 2 to 4 am.
Why take melatonin supplements?
Although the body produces melatonin, this may not be sufficient for individuals with insomnia. Providing an external supply of melatonin may help in better sleep.
Quick Fact: Melatonin can cross the blood-brain barrier, and takes around 90 minutes to produce an effect.
What are the benefits of melatonin?
- Some natural sources of melatonin are:
- Reduces insomnia
- Lowers cholesterol
- Relieves MCI
- Better alternative to benzodiazepines
Insomnia is the persistent inability to fall and stay asleep. Doctors consider insomnia chronic, if it occurs for three nights per week for three months or longer. Research has shown that insomnia affects 20% of the world population and around 50- 70 million Americans in a year.
Quick Fact: Insomnia is the most common sleep disorder, and affects 6 – 12% of the adult population.
Studies show that individuals with MCI, who took 3-9 mg of melatonin supplements for 9- 18 months, performed better in cognitive tests compared to the individuals who did not. Individuals who are relying on “benzo” drugs solely for sleep are often advised to switch to melatonin for better results and no side effects. Also, benzodiazepines have been shown to deplete natural levels of insulin.
What is the recommended dosage of melatonin?
There is no standard recommended dosage for melatonin supplementation. Different people respond differently to its effects. Low doses of melatonin like ½ mg is sufficient for particularly sensitive people. In such cases, higher dose may cause anxiety and irritability. As with most over-the-counter supplements, it is better to start with a very low dose and observe the response from your body. The best dose is one that would provide adequate sleep without irritability or fatigue. Individuals anticipating jet-lag are usually recommended to take 0.5 to 5 mg of melatonin one hour before bedtime at the destination.
Quick Fact: Melatonin is especially helpful to those dealing with jet lag or shift work that has you working nights. Disrupted natural circadian rhythms can be normalized by supplementing with melatonin.
AIWO Recommendation: Melatonin 1 – 3 mg per day. We recommend using melatonin as a nootropic supplement. We suggest trying a melatonin supplement first at a dose of ½ – 1 mg taken 90 minutes before bedtime. And see how you feel. If you readily fall and stay asleep until morning you know you’ve got the dose right. Most individuals do not need more than 3 to 5 mg per night.
Safety and Side Effects
What are the common side effects?
- Some common side effects of using melatonin are:
- No major side effects in low doses
- Side effects when used indiscreetly:
- Abdominal cramps
- Decreased libido
- Breast enlargement in men
- Reduced sperm counts
Melatonin is generally considered safe to use when taken in low doses, although there have been reported cases of nightmares or vivid dreams on taking melatonin.