Melatonin for Sleep
Before saying why it is important to use melatonin for sleep instead taking dangerous drugs, it is important to talk a little bit this important hormone.
Melatonin, also called N-acetyl-5-methoxytryptamine, often called sleep hormone, is synthesized mainly at night. It plays the central role in the regulation of chronobiological rhythms (“biological clock”), an innate mechanism that controls our physiological activities that change on a daily, seasonal, yearly, or other regular cycle. It also regulates many hormonal secretions, in humans as well as in all mammals.
Production of Melatonin
This neurohormone is synthesized from the neurotransmitter serotonin, which derives itself from tryptophan, an essential amino acid made from plant or animal sources necessary for normal growth in infants and balance of biosynthesis of proteins in adults. Tryptophan is also used to treat sleep problems.
Melatonin is produced by the pineal gland (also called epiphysis). Its secretion is inhibited by light and stimulated when it is dark. The maximum production is reached from 2 to 5 am, hence this it is also named “hormone of darkness”. Through melatonin, the pineal gland informs the brain about the relative duration of the hours of darkness and lighting over a period of 24 h (daily cycle), but also throughout the year (seasonality). By secreting melatonin, the pineal gland “tells” the brain that it’s dark and it’s the right time to sleep.
Unfortunately, in people with insomnia this wonderful hormonal is either does not work properly or the brain is too active (overactive mind) to relax and cause deep and profound sleep. That does not mean all sleep disorders are cause by this hormonal irregularity; other conditions such as diseases (cancer for instance), events or environmental stress can also impair the process. Therefore, using melatonin for sleep can work depending on the cause of the insomnia.
Types of Melatonin for Sleep Available
In general, two forms of melatonin are available on the market: Immediate–release (ordinary form, also called “quick-release”) and the prolonged-release or slow-release (a special preparation, also called “controlled-release,” designed to spread absorption in the body over many hours). Presumably the first help to fall asleep faster and the second helps to stay asleep.
In its natural form (when taken from foods), melatonin plays both role normally. But it is not abundant in nature. The leaves and roots of many plants contain small amounts of melatonin, including fenugreek seeds, alfalfa, fennel, poppy, flax, coriander and sunflower. The role of this antioxidant substance would be to protect the fragile seed of these plants against oxidative effects of UV radiation, drought, extreme temperatures and toxins. Therefore, the hormone can be used not only as an insomnia treatment but also as an antioxidant.
History of Melatonin
Melatonin is basically a new product. It was discovered in 1958 by Aaron B. Lerner of Yale University. However, its popularity would soar until in 1995 thanks to a media campaign orchestrated around the publication of a book called Melatonin: Your Body’s Natural Wonder Drug.
Melatonin, which was quickly dubbed the “miracle hormone”, has created wildest expectations. Today, the tone is more moderate, but many researchers believe it has many therapeutic properties, including in the field of cancer treatment due to the fact very low levels tend to be found in people diagnosed with cancer. But this book is about its role in fighting insomnia, not cancers. Others think instead the “wonder hormone” must be treated with caution since scientists still poorly know possible long-term effects. Meanwhile, many studies have confirmed the relation between certain chronic diseases and Melatonin Deficiency.
Melatonin is not considered an essential nutrient; no recommended daily intake has been established. One cannot therefore speak of deficiency with certainty. However, researchers have noticed that people with certain health problems had levels below average. For instance patients with chronic heart problems have low melatonin levels, but it is unclear if this is a cause or effect (consequence) of the disease.
Other findings also confirmed that travelers and people who work rotating shifts frequently tend to suffer from sleep disorders that seem to be caused by change in their melatonin levels. It is also found prolonged exposure to electromagnetic fields could inhibit production of this hormone, thus the reason prolonged exposure to computer screen cause sleep disorders. Thus, in these cases, using melatonin for sleep can greatly help.
It was long thought that the production of melatonin decreases with age, but more recent studies suggest that this is not the case. Healthy elderlies have normal melatonin levels.
- Harvard School of Public Health, Examples of Moderate and Vigorous Physical Activity: retrieved on May 12, 2016
- Herxheimer A, Petrie KJ. Melatonin for the prevention and treatment of jet lag.Cochrane Database Syst Rev 2002;(2):CD001520.
- Buscemi N, Vandermeer B, et al. Efficacy and safety of exogenous melatonin for secondary sleep disorders and sleep disorders accompanying sleep restriction: meta-analysis. BMJ. 2006 Feb 18;332(7538):385-93. Review. Texte intégral : www.bmj.com
- BMJ, Rapid responses to : Efficacy and safety of exogenous melatonin for secondary sleep disorders and sleep disorders accompanying sleep restriction: meta-analysis. BMJ. 2006 Feb 18;332(7538):385-93. Review. http://bmj.bmjjournals.com.
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