Mobile phones were primarily designed to help people connect with each other. But with new advancements in technology, our phone now does a lot more than simply call. From clicking pictures to tracing our calories to capturing images and videos, the list goes on. Melatonin, a sleep hormone, is in a way very similar, as its primary function is to make you sleep and wake you up on time, but it has many more benefits. From preventing neurological disorders to managing diabetes complications to building strong immunity, the benefits are endless. Scroll down to learn more about this hormone and why including melatonin supplements in your daily routine can not only help you get that much-needed beauty sleep but also improve your overall health.
Melatonin and Sleep-Wake Cycle
The pineal gland (the production house of melatonin) in the brain works like a sensor. It functions with the help of signals that it receives from outside the body. During the night, the pineal gland senses darkness and increases the production of the melatonin hormone that promotes sleep. Similarly, during the daytime, melatonin production is decreased once the pineal gland receives signals from daytime brightness, aiding wakefulness. In short, melatonin dictates our sleep schedules.
When we confuse our body by exposing it to the blue light emitted from gadgets, melatonin production decreases, making it difficult for us to get our natural sleep on time. Some people who face insufficiency or a lack of this hormone may resort to melatonin supplements.
Overall Health Benefits of Melatonin
Melatonin provides us with a host of benefits for good health. Let’s explore them one by one.
- Melatonin and Sleep Disorders
Since melatonin is crucial for inducing sleep, it assists the body in many sleep-related disorders.
- Insomnia: Continuously tossing and turning in bed? Insomnia can make you feel helpless at night and drained the next morning, as sleep is essential for the brain to function and focus better. Supplementation of melatonin in small doses may help in shortening the time to fall asleep and in treating insomnia (trouble falling or staying asleep) in patients.
- Delayed Sleep Phase Disorder: In this disorder, your regular sleep pattern is postponed by 2 hours or more, making you sleep and wake up late. Melatonin helps in reducing the time and length of sleep and initiates its onset.
- Jet Lag: Our body has an internal clock called the circadian rhythm that regulates the time and duration of various processes. The sleep-wake cycle is a part of this internal body clock, and frequent international travel can disturb this cycle. During international flights, the change in longitudes or latitudes causes a change in day and night time, confusing our circadian rhythm, and leading to jet lag. Some studies show that melatonin helps reset disturbed circadian rhythms.
2. Melatonin and Immunity
Sleep like a baby to build an immune system that fights infection like the Hulk!
A good night’s rest is crucial for building a healthy immune system. Sleep deprivation can impact your immunity negatively in many ways. Inadequate sleep has been observed to decrease your fighter cells (white blood cells), notably Natural Killer (NK) cells. Natural killer cells are specialized in fighting off viral infections. Thus, insufficient melatonin leads to a lack of sleep, which eventually puts you at a higher risk of getting infected with viruses and germs.
Sleep deprivation has also been linked to high levels of cytokines, a protein found in the body that promotes inflammation. In some cases of COVID-19, people developed severe, life-threatening complications called “cytokine storms” that involved inflammation, high levels of cytokines, and high fever.
Thus, low levels of melatonin cause a decrease in the number of antibodies, putting you at risk of infections.
A few studies also showed that melatonin supplements in COVID-19 patients helped in their quick recovery and even lessened their complications.
3. Melatonin and Antioxidants
The root cause of many health disorders at the cellular level seems to be oxidative stress caused by free radicals. Antioxidants help in preventing and treating oxidative stress caused by free radicals. Melatonin has a neurological, cardiovascular, reproductive, and immunomodulatory effect owing to its antioxidant properties.
Understanding free radicals, oxidative stress, and antioxidants.
Our body is made up of cells, and these cells are made up of atoms. These atoms usually have paired electrons in their orbits. When they lose one of the electrons from the pair, they turn into unstable particles called free radicals.
These unstable free radicals try to snatch away electrons from other atoms in the process of becoming stable, thereby disturbing (oxidative stress) and damaging (free radical oxidation) other atoms.
Antioxidants are atoms that have additional electrons and are ready to donate them. By accepting these donated electrons, free radicals become stable. Thus, antioxidants help prevent and treat the damage done by free radicals in the body.
Damage due to these free radicals is responsible for a host of health disorders, ranging from skin wrinkles (aging) to the development of cancer.
4. Melatonin and Neurological Disorders
Our nervous system originates from our brain and controls our thoughts, body movements, and automatic responses of our body. Neurological disorders are characterized by disruptions in the normal functioning of the nervous system. Melatonin acts as a neuro regulator with strong antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Decreased production of melatonin in aged individuals has been indicated as the main cause of neurodegenerative diseases. Melatonin has been shown to have both preventive and therapeutic effects on neurological disorders like Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, multiple sclerosis, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Huntington’s disease, epilepsy, and headaches. Melatonin has also been shown to improve cognition and decrease signs of depression.
5. Melatonin and Managing Blood Sugar Levels
Hyperglycemia is a condition where an excess amount of blood sugar flows for a long time through the major (macro) and minor (micro) blood vessels, leading to their gradual damage. Macroblood vessel damage affects the organs that it supplies blood to, like the heart (cardiovascular) and brain (neurological). Similarly, micro-blood vessel damage affects the organs that it supplies blood to, like the eye (retinal), kidney (nephrological), and skin through nerves (neurological). Melatonin has been shown to decrease hyperglycemia in diabetes.
Thus, melatonin supplementation helps in the management of diabetes by getting HbA1c under control. Melatonin has also been shown to prevent and treat these complications, such as:
Diabetic Neuropathy: Damage to nerves due to diabetes
Diabetic Nephropathy: Damage to the kidneys due to diabetes
Diabetic Cardiovascular Complications: Damage to the heart due to diabetes
Diabetic Retinopathy: Damage to the eyes due to diabetes
Sources of Melatonin
There are numerous foods that are good natural sources of melatonin. Taking these foods can help support the body’s natural melatonin levels.
A few natural sources include:
- Goji Berries
- Tart Cherries
Aside from food, you can also invest in melatonin supplements. These supplements can help improve the production of this hormone and promote overall wellness. From regulating sleep to building immunity, preventing diabetes, and maintaining brain health, melatonin benefits are endless. Supplementation of melatonin may be beneficial if you are a frequent traveler or in the aviation industry, which tends to disrupt your circadian rhythm.
Melatonin supplements go a long way in ensuring that your body’s need for this hormone is met if its inclusion through meals is difficult for you. They come in various forms, like melatonin tablets, capsules, and strips. If you are not comfortable popping pills, you may opt for strips. Melatonin strips are gaining much attention these days, owing to their quick absorption, better portability, and hassle-free consumption.
Now that we have seen how melatonin does much more than just help us regulate our sleep, let’s make a conscious effort to include its sources in our diets or add melatonin supplements to our daily routine. Although melatonin is safe in smaller doses for short-term use, please consult your doctor before starting any supplements.