Tens of millions of Americans have trouble sleeping, which can lead to such problems as loss of energy, reduced productivity during waking hours and heightened risk of diseases including hypertension (high blood pressure) and diabetes. Your ability to sleep depends in large part on melatonin, a naturally produced hormone that lets your body know when it’s time to hit the hay. And if you have sleep issues, you might need melatonin in supplement form to help you get to sleep at night.
Where Does Melatonin Come From?
In short, it comes from your own body, which, per healthline.com, is manufactured inside your brain by the pineal gland, Natural melatonin can also be found elsewhere in your body in places such as your eyes, bone marrow, and even in your gut. But melatonin is not a drug that will knock you out, like a narcotic. Its purpose is to prepare you for sleep by letting your body know when it’s time to go to sleep, so you in turn can relax and have an easier time falling asleep.
How Does Melatonin Work?
Your melatonin levels fluctuate during the day and night, working in conjunction with your body’s circadian rhythm – acting as an internal clock of sorts for your body. When it gets dark outside, for example, your melatonin levels begin to rise, which send a signal to your body that sleep time is approaching.
“Your body produces melatonin naturally. It doesn’t make you sleep, but as melatonin levels rise in the evening, it puts you into a state of quiet wakefulness that helps promote sleep,” says Dr. Luis F. Buenaver, a sleep expert with Johns Hopkins Medicine, per hopkinsmedicine.org. “ . . . You can try a supplement on a short-term basis if you’re experiencing insomnia, want to overcome jet lag, or are a night owl who needs to get to bed earlier and wake up earlier, such as for work or school.”
Not only that, but your body’s melatonin will also bind to receptors in your body, such as receptors in your brain so as to diminish nerve activity, per healthline.com. Likewise, melatonin in your eyes acts after darkness to assist in the reduction of your level of dopamine, which is the hormone that works to keep you awake when you want to be bright-eyed and bushy-tailed.
What Can Cause Sleep Issues?
Not everybody produces sufficient levels of melatonin on their own at night, which can make falling asleep a struggle for them. Factors that can hinder achieving a sufficient level of melatonin when it’s sleep time can include stress, smoking, being exposed to too much light during the day (such as “blue light,” like that emanating from computer screens), not getting enough natural light during the day, shift work (such as midnight to 8 a.m.), and aging, per healthline.com.
Jet lag is what you will experience when traveling across several time zones, such as flying cross country or crossing the Atlantic Ocean to go to Europe. Jet lag is caused by your body’s internal clock being out of sync with the time zone in which you have arrived. Various studies have shown that melatonin, such as that contained in a supplement, has been quite effective in reducing jet lag’s effects.
Melatonin’s Other Health Benefits
Although melatonin is essentially synonymous with sleep and sleep issues, the hormone has been shown to be effective in benefitting our health in other areas. Take note, though, that you should discuss your use of melatonin in supplement form with your physician before adding it to your daily regimen, even if short term:
- Eye health. Melatonin is rich in antioxidants, which can help reduce the possibility of developing diseases affecting sight, such as age-related macular degeneration.
- Stomach issues. Per healthline.com, a study utilizing 21 test subjects found that taking melatonin in combination with tryptophan and omeprazole – which is used to treat acid reflux – can aid in treating stomach ulcers caused by the bacteria H. pylori.
- Tinnitus. Taking melatonin can help diminish the symptoms of tinnitus, chiefly ringing in the ears, which can hinder your attempts to fall asleep.
- Growth hormone levels. Your body naturally releases human growth hormone (HGH) while you are asleep, and using melatonin can help increase those growth hormone levels.
- Seasonal depression. It is estimated that as many as 20 percent of American grownups are effected by what’s known as the “winter blues,” more formally known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD), which apparently is related to changes in sleep cycles. By helping with your sleep cycles, melatonin can help decrease seasonal depression’s symptoms.