Melatonin and sleep
Understanding the connection
Melatonin is otherwise known as the hormone of darkness. When the sun starts to set it sends very strong signals to your body saying: “it’s dark!!!” The pineal gland (right in the middle of your brain) then knows it’s time to release melatonin into your bloodstream because sleep is on the way!
Melatonin helps regulate the timing of when sleep occurs. It has little effect on the generation of sleep itself. Once asleep, melatonin decreases and as the sun rises and it enters the brain through the eyes (even closed lids) a brake pedal is applied and shuts off the release of melatonin. Signaling to the body to finish the line of sleep and allow wakefulness to take over.
It’s almost like we are solar-powered!
To sum it up: Melatonin helps with the timing of your sleep and wake cycle.
What are the benefits of Melatonin on the body?
- Melatonin keeps your immune system strong. If you don’t have enough melatonin, your immune system would become weak, making you more likely to get sick. Melatonin is the best hormone against cancer because it is needed for the immune system to work well.
- Several studies have shown that it is the most powerful antioxidant in the body. Melatonin gets rid of free radicals, tells genes to turn on other antioxidant systems, can get to every cell in the body, and easily crosses the barrier between the blood and the brain.
- Melatonin helps keep Circadian Rhythms stable and controls all other hormones. This is because all hormones are connected like a web, especially hormones that control reproduction, metabolism, and appetite. This, in turn, helps you sleep better, keep your brain healthy, and to lose weight. Melatonin works against cortisol in a direct way. Cortisol (stress) goes down when melatonin goes up.
The rise and fall of melatonin over 24 hours
What about melatonin supplements?
It’s increasingly common to be prescribed melatonin supplements when you complain you or your child is not sleeping. When in actual fact there is little, if any, quality melatonin in the pills.
It’s shocking to find that scientific evaluations of over-the-counter melatonin supplements have a concentration of up to 83% less than stated on the label.
Here are some things to improve sleep in the meantime:
- Stay consistent with your bedtime routine and schedule.
- Make sure to expose your child to enough activity during the day.
- Have a calming bedtime routine. Read more
- Limit screens an hour before bedtime as the blue light it emits blocks melatonin production. Not only does it lower melatonin, but when we watch computers or TV at night or check our emails before sunrise, our internal clock gets messed up and all of our hormones are thrown off (think of our hormonal system like a web, all connected). It’s not just the eyes, blue light enters via your skin layers too.
- Create a good sleep environment for your child. Dark, white noise and consistent.
- Melatonin Rich Foods:
- Goji berries (very high source).
- Cherries, espeically tart cherries. Tart cherry juice has been studied to help sleep.
- Walnuts and almonds.
- Fenugreek and mustard seeds
If you do decide to use melatonin:
- Make sure you use the product recommended by your paediatrician or healthcare provider.
- Start with a very low dose.
- Try not to give it every night. By giving it every night your child might get use to the dose and you will need to keep increasing it.
Our recommendation is to never just try or buy melatonin supplements! If you believe that you or your child is really struggling with melatonin production and it has been medically investigated then it is a valid supplementation. Otherwise there are many things to still try, like sleep coaching to solve your sleep struggles.
Did you find this as interesting as we did!? Chat to us in the comments below!
Resources: Walker, Matthew. “Why We Sleep.” The New Science of Sleep and Dreams, 2017. https://whealthy-life.com/blogs/news/melatonin-the-critical-hormone-how-to-optimise-it https://sites.psu.edu/lifeitmoveson/2018/01/26/sleep-external-influences/