Caroline Wallace combines two of her passions—science writing and complementary and alternative medicine, along with her knowledge of DoTERRA Essential Oils.

Harness the Power of Melatonin for Optimal Sleep and Health

Picture this: It’s the end of a long, exhausting day. You’re nestled under the covers, ready to take a break and sleep finally. But as the minutes turn into hours, sleep eludes you. Does this story sound all too familiar?

Sleep is essential for our body to function and prevent illness, but at least a third of Americans are sleep deprived. Melatonin is a widely used cover-the-counter sleep aid that has become more popular over the past decade. But – before you grab a bottle of melatonin, let’s dive into the science behind it and learn if it may benefit you.  

What is Melatonin?

Melatonin, chemically known as N-acetyl-5-methoxytryptamine, is a naturally occurring hormone made from the essential neurotransmitter serotonin. Serotonin is made from the essential amino acid (protein building block) tryptophan that must be consumed.  

Your body makes melatonin in the pineal gland, a small pinecone-shaped endocrine gland deep within the brain. The pineal gland, sometimes called the “third eye,” responds to environmental light cues.

Light: The Master Regulator

The relationship between light and dark is a fundamental aspect of our daily lives, intricately tied to our sleep-wake cycle. Exposure to light – especially natural daylight – regulates our body’s production of melatonin. The absence of light at night signals the pineal gland to start releasing melatonin, causing us to feel sleepy. Understanding and respecting the intricate relationship between the light-dark cycle and our biological systems is crucial for optimal health and well-being.

Circadian Disruptors

Think of your body as a high-performing sports team. Each player has a specific position and unique skills contributing to the team’s success. To win, the team must work together by seamlessly supporting and complementing each other’s strengths. When one team member is not performing well, the whole team may suffer. The other players can often compensate for a while, but eventually, this takes a toll on the whole team. Similarly, when melatonin production gets out of whack, your whole body can eventually become imbalanced.

Natural melatonin production can vary based on age, diet, and certain health conditions that affect sleep. For example, melatonin production decreases with age. You cannot change your age, but other lifestyle choices or habits could impact your melatonin production. Here are some things that might be contributing to sleep challenges:

  • Exposure to artificial light at night, especially from devices that emit blue light, can suppress melatonin secretion and delay falling asleep.
  • Prolonged stress can alter pathways in the brain, including the release of melatonin.
  • Eating a poor diet may cause a lack of essential amino acids, vitamins, and minerals, which are building blocks for hormones and neurotransmitters.
  • Keeping irregular sleep schedules, such as working different shifts or jetlag from changing time zones, disrupts your circadian rhythm.   
  • Lack of exposure to natural light during the day can lead to low serotonin (remember that melatonin is made from serotonin!).
  • Taking certain medications like beta blockers and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) can influence melatonin production or release.

Timing is Everything: When to Take Melatonin for Sleep

Since melatonin is key in regulating sleep, melatonin supplements have become a popular sleep aid. However, it’s important to remember that safe and effective use requires consideration of individual factors.

Managing anxiety/stress, spending more time outside, assessing your diet, and practicing good “sleep hygiene” are the best places to start. Taking melatonin before bed is easy… but it may not get to the root of any underlying problem. And it may not get you the desired results!

Here are some things to consider when using melatonin for sleep:

  • Since melatonin is a sleep cycle regulator, it may help your body sync with your new schedule if you change time zones or work shifts.
  • It generally takes effect within 20 to 40 minutes of taking it, so it is usually recommended to take it 30 minutes before your desired sleep time. (Note: this does not apply to extended-release melatonin or melatonin patches)
  • It can stay in your body for 4 – 10 hours depending on the formulation, so taking it in the middle of the night/too close to when you have to get up can leave you feeling groggy in the morning.
  • More isn’t always better! Too much can disrupt your body’s natural melatonin production and alter how your body responds to melatonin.
  • Melatonin can interact with other medications, such as antidepressants, diabetes medication, birth control, and blood pressure medication.

Melatonin’s Role in Health

Few compounds in our body have a single function; melatonin is an excellent example of that interconnectedness. Ongoing research is uncovering the multiple activities of melatonin throughout our body. Our bodies heal when we sleep, likely due in part to the powerful effects of melatonin, which peak at night. Here are ways that melatonin supports your overall health:

  • Neuroprotective effects: Studies have shown that melatonin exhibits neuroprotective properties, helping to protect against oxidative stress and reducing neuronal damage in conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease.
  • Antioxidant effects: Melatonin can scavenge free radicals and reduce oxidative stress. This can contribute to the prevention of cellular damage and support overall cellular health.
  • Immune modulation: Melatonin can enhance immune function and plays a role in regulating both innate and adaptive immune responses.
  • Anti-cancer properties: Research suggests that melatonin may possess anti-cancer properties, including inhibiting tumor growth, inducing cancer cell death, and reducing the adverse effects of chemotherapy.
  • Cardiovascular protection: Melatonin has been shown to have protective effects on the cardiovascular system, including reducing blood pressure, improving lipid profiles, and preventing the formation of blood clots.

Respecting your body’s natural cycle in response to the light/dark can keep your melatonin production machinery functioning well, allowing your naturally produced melatonin to exert protective effects while you sleep.

Supplementing with melatonin is an individual choice based on your lifestyle and health. It is essential to remember that individual variations and underlying health conditions should be considered, making expert guidance critical when incorporating melatonin into your routine.

Are you struggling with sleep and don’t know where to start? Health Coaching can help you navigate your wellness journey. Reach out to me today to get started.

Disclaimer: This article should not replace individual clinical judgment or professional medical advice.

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