If you are having trouble sleeping and have tried searching for a solution to your problem, then you might have heard of melatonin. Melatonin is a natural compound produced by your body from serotonin (a hormone that transmits nerve impulses), which in turn is synthesized from tryptophan, an essential amino acid. It helps in the regulation of the awake/sleep cycle, and is being studied for this function.
How Melatonin Is Produced
Melatonin is mainly produced by the pineal gland, which is located near the pituitary gland, within the skull. It is synthesized by the enzyme 5-hydroxyindole-O-methyltransferase. It can also be produced by bone marrow cells, epithelial cells and lymphocytes. Light prevents, while darkness stimulates, the production of this substance. This is the reason why melatonin was labeled the “hormone of darkness.” The highest concentration of melatonin in your blood occurs in the middle of the night and eventually decreases until you wake up.
Benefits of Using Melatonin
Based on animal experiments, melatonin appears to prevent carcinogens from damaging the cells’ DNA, and in turn, prevents the occurrence of cancer. It also has an antioxidant activity, and may prevent the progression of Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease. Melatonin also appears to prevent cardiac arrhythmias such as atrial fibrillation. Therefore, it is one of the substances being considered now for fighting against the bad effects of aging.
Scientists have also been conducting studies to find out whether melatonin could help fight against cardiovascular diseases, cancer, immune disorders, depression and other mood disorders, and sexual dysfunction.
Nevertheless, the main benefit of melatonin is ascribed to the fact that it is able to help you maintain a good night’s sleep. It is believed to be good for sleep disorders that involve disruption of the circadian rhythm. These include delayed sleep phase syndrome and jet lag. Moreover, it is also believed to help if you are exposed to bright light for long periods of time.
The US Food and Drug Administration regulates the sale of melatonin as a supplement, rather than a drug. When you want to use melatonin to help you sleep, it can be taken in the evening, at least 30 to 90 minutes before going to bed, to gain a hypnotic effect. Combining melatonin with light therapy would optimize its effects.
The standard dose for melatonin supplementation is 3 mg. There are no reports of side effects from this dose. Moreover, it does not prevent the body from producing its own melatonin. If you are taking melatonin, remember that it works best in the dark. Therefore, avoid having a light on in your room or you should at least dim your lights. If you take melatonin while there are bright lights on, its action may be blocked completely.
Melatonin supplements provide an effective and safe alternative to sleeping pills, which could make you prone to dependence and overdose. By taking melatonin instead of other drugs, you are able to regain your restful sleep while benefiting from its antioxidant and immune-boosting effects.