The Missing Puzzle of Melatonin

Confused young woman examining her sleeping pills
The Missing Puzzle of Melatonin
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When it comes to living healthily, melatonin is key, but this is something that many people don’t really think about. 

What is melatonin and why do you need more of it? 

Here is everything you need to know about this missing puzzle piece in your life…

What Exactly is Melatonin?

Melatonin is a hormone that your body produces naturally. 

It is produced in your pineal gland, which is a small gland that can be found in the center of your brain. However, other parts of your body, such as your skin and your GI tract, also produce small amounts of melatonin. 

Illustration of how the pineal gland works

A unique aspect to melatonin is the fact that light suppresses its production, which is why the majority of the melatonin in your body is only produced at night, when you are in darkness. 

What does this hormone do? 

It is responsible for quite a few key functions within the body…

Your Circadian Rhythm

Your circadian rhythm is the 24 hour cycle that your body goes through, and this is something not only shared by humans, but also other animals, plants and fungi. 

Your circadian rhythm is what causes you to feel sleepy at nights, and this is largely due to melatonin…

Once your body has produced melatonin, it then sends this into your blood, so that the hormone can then circulate around your body. This enables the melatonin to regulate your natural body clock, keeping you awake during the day and asleep at night. 

As mentioned above, melatonin tends to be produced in darkness, with its production increasing around two hours before you usually go to bed. This is usually at about 9pm, after which your melatonin levels will remain quite elevated for the next 12 hours, until daytime arrives at around 9am. 

However, there are so many factors out there that can disrupt your body’s production of melatonin, such as: 

  • Bright lights in the evening 
  • Stress 
  • A change of location/ time zone, resulting in jet lag 
  • Poor vision 
  • Working night shifts 

Basically, anything that results in you experiencing unusual levels of darkness during the day, or extra light at night, will interfere with the rate at which your body produces melatonin.

What happens then? 

You end up staying awake at nights, unable to fall asleep. When you do finally drift off, you will likely wake up frequently through the night, rather than staying fast asleep all the way through. 

Antioxidant Properties

Let’s begin by quickly going over what an antioxidant actually does…

Everything from the sun’s UV rays to pollution to stress can cause free radicals to form in the body. Simply put, free radicals are molecules that are missing an electron, and they end up attacking surrounding cells in order to steal the electron needed to heal themselves.

As you can imagine, this causes so much damage within the body, leading to everything from premature aging to heart disease to cancer. 

This is where antioxidants come in…

Antioxidants contain several spare electrons. When they come into contact with a free radical, they donate an extra electron to the free radical. This then neutralizes it, and prevents the free radical from causing any more damage. 

free radicals graphics

When it comes to the many different antioxidants out there, vitamins and minerals tend to be the most talked about. 

However, melatonin also contains antioxidant properties. 

Unlike some of the other antioxidants out there, melatonin is able to uniquely reach the very depths of each cell, causing a significant change at a deeper level. 

In addition to neutralizing free radicals, the antioxidant properties of melatonin also enable it to increase the rate at which the body produces other antioxidants, while also preventing the formation of future antioxidants. 

Anti-Carcinogenic Properties

Cancer has become such a huge problem all over the world, but melatonin is something that can help with this. 

How? 

In a couple of ways…

Firstly, melatonin interferes with cancer cells, preventing them from growing and multiplying. It is also able to induce death within cancer cells, making them a fantastic accompaniment to traditional cancer treatments. 

Not only that, but melatonin also boosts the immune system. It activates the immune cells required to destroy foreign invaders, while improving the way in which the cells in your body communicate with each other. This is another way in which melatonin helps with cancer, as a strengthened immune system is key when it comes to fighting the disease.

Testing Your Melatonin Levels

Wondering whether or not your body is producing enough melatonin?

Fortunately, this is something that can be tested for, taking all of the guesswork out of it. 

The levels of melatonin in your body can be tested through either a blood, saliva or urine test. Your doctor will usually be happy to carry this out if you are showing signs of a melatonin deficiency.

What are the symptoms of a melatonin deficiency?

They include the following: 

  • Sleep problems 
  • Restless legs and tense muscles at night 
  • Mood swings 
  • Symptoms of menopause 
  • Intestinal problems 
  • An increased rate of aging 

What should you do if you discover that you have a melatonin deficiency? 

You have quite a few options, from taking oral supplements to increasing your melatonin production naturally. 

How to Stimulate Your Body’s Melatonin Production

As mentioned earlier, there are numerous factors that can interfere with the rate at which your body produces melatonin, slowing this down significantly. Not only that, but age also makes a difference – the older you are, the less melatonin your body will produce. 

Before turning to supplements, you can always try to naturally stimulate your body into producing more of this vital hormone. 

How? 

Here are a few tips: 

  • Keep lights dimmed in the evening, and avoid using any electronic devices before bed 
  • Use blackout curtains in your bedroom in the evening if light pollution from street lights and other sources is a problem 
  • Expose yourself to sunlight, rather than artificial lights, in the mornings 

You could also try consuming more foods that are naturally high in melatonin…

Natural Food Sources of Melatonin

While there are many melatonin supplements out there, which will be discussed in more detail further on, it is always going to be more beneficial if you can increase your intake of melatonin through your diet. 

Infographic on the health benefits of melatonin

How do you do this? 

By consuming more of these melatonin-rich foods:

  • Tart cherries and tart cherry juice 
  • Walnuts
  • Mustard seeds 
  • Corn 
  • Rice 
  • Tomatoes 
  • Ginger 
  • Oats 
  • Under-ripe bananas 
  • Peanuts
  • Asparagus

Since just about every plant out there contains botanical melatonin, increasing your consumption of plant-based foods will automatically mean that you are consuming more melatonin through your diet. 

Do you drink a lot of coffee? 

You likely already know that the caffeine will keep you awake, but there are actually many other compounds within coffee that can increase the production of melatonin in your body by up to 32%. For this reason, you may be best off switching to decaffeinated coffee for the second half of the day. This will enable your body to make the most of its melatonin-boosting components, without having to also deal with the melatonin-inhibiting properties of the caffeine. 

Oral Melatonin Supplements

Melatonin supplements are becoming increasingly popular, but this is an area in which you need to be quite wary…

Why? 

Because melatonin isn’t classified as a drug, meaning that the factories in which synthetic melatonin is produced are not regulated by the FDA. Since melatonin can be found naturally in certain foods, this is the only hormone available in the USA that doesn’t require a prescription, and is instead considered to be a dietary supplement. 

This may be convenient when it comes to finding melatonin, but it does also mean that you can never be quite sure as to the dosage contained in the supplements you purchase. 

For this reason, you need to make sure that you thoroughly research the supplement brand you plan on using, ensuring that they are as reputable as possible. Try to find a supplement that has been certified by a third party organization, such as NSF International or Informed Choice. 

It goes without saying that you should only take melatonin supplements in the evening. 

Why? 

Because taking them during the day means that the amount of melatonin in your body will soon increase, and this may cause you to feel sleepy during the day, rather than at night. 

When it comes to dosage…

This depends on the reason you are taking the melatonin supplements. 

Here are some guidelines: 

  • For general trouble falling asleep – 0.3 to 5 mg 
  • For more serious sleep disorders – 2 to 12 mg 
  • For insomnia caused by medication – 10 mg 
  • For jet lag – 0.5 to 8mg 
  • For reducing anxiety before surgery – 3 to 10 mg

Wondering if there are any side effects to taking melatonin supplements? 

In the short term, no, there don’t seem to be any serious side effects. 

You may experience the following, but these symptoms are quite rare: 

What about the long term? 

Unfortunately, there haven’t been enough studies carried out on this, meaning that long term side effects are relatively unknown. 

Can children take melatonin supplements? 

Children’s brains naturally produce large amounts of melatonin, which is why many experts don’t recommend using this supplement for children. However, in the short term, it is relatively safe, but you need to make sure that you don’t allow your child to take it for too long. Research on the side effects of melatonin in children is so limited, and this is something that you don’t want to take too much of a chance with. 

If your child is having trouble sleeping, you would be best off trying to identify the underlying issue that is causing this, and then working to treat that. Chances are, it’s not down to a melatonin deficiency, and is likely being caused by another factor. 

Using Melatonin Topically

As mentioned earlier, melatonin has powerful antioxidant properties, and this is something that can really benefit the skin. 

Adding more antioxidants into your skin care routine can help with everything from fine lines and wrinkles to sun damage, which is why melatonin is now becoming quite popular when it comes to topical skin care products. 

Wondering if this actually works, or if it’s just a gimmick? 

Research shows that melatonin is able to penetrate into the outer layer of the skin, where it then performs a few different tasks.

Not only does melatonin boost the way in which the skin is able to heal and repair itself, but it also speeds up the production of new skin cells. Its antioxidant properties mean that melatonin is able to have a noticeable effect on the visible signs of aging, reducing the appearance of wrinkles and fine lines while preventing new ones from developing quite as quickly. 

Is there anyone who shouldn’t use topical melatonin? 

Yes, and this is due to the side effects that topical melatonin can have…

Melatonin activates the melanocytes in your skin, which are the cells that produce melanin. Melanin is the pigment that gives your skin its color. 

By activating this process, melatonin can actually have the effect of causing the skin to darken. 

If you are looking to treat one of the following issues, then topical melatonin is not the ingredient for you: 

For everyone else, melatonin can really have so many skin benefits, resulting in a much healthier and clearer complexion. 

Although your body produces melatonin itself, the average modern day lifestyle means that many people are now experiencing problems when it comes to natural melatonin production. This can lead to so many different health issues, so make sure that you stay in full control of your body’s melatonin levels if you want to keep yourself as healthy as possible. 

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