What is Melatonin? An In-Depth Exploration of the Sleep Hormone

All about Melatonin

Sleep is an essential part of life.

Sleep not only restores your energy levels, but also repairs muscle tissue, promotes growth, reduces inflammation, helps maintain a healthy weight and immune system, and keeps your brain in tip-top shape.

One hormone that plays a critical role in your sleep cycle is melatonin.

What is Melatonin?

Melatonin is a naturally occurring hormone produced by the brain in response to darkness.

It is often referred to as the “hormone of darkness” as it is synthesized and secreted during the dark hours, and its production is suppressed by light.

What is Melatonin

This molecule possesses not only endothelial protective effects but also anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and anti-coagulopathic properties.

It is the main hormone that regulates your sleep/wake cycle and your body’s internal clock known as your circadian rhythm.

How Melatonin is Produced?

It is produced by the pineal gland, a tiny, pinecone-shaped structure located deep within the brain.  


The pineal gland is a small endocrine gland found in the vertebrate brain, which is a part of your endocrine system or a group of glands that regulate hormones.

The journey of melatonin production starts with tryptophan, gradually transforming through multiple steps into serotonin within different areas of the brain.

Melatonin Synthesis

The suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) in the hypothalamus manages the transformation of serotonin into melatonin, whose work is to control the body’s circadian rhythms.

The release of the hormone rises shortly after the beginning of darkness, reaching its peak point in the middle of the night, typically between 2 and 4 a.m. It then gradually declines during the latter part of the night.

Source: physio-pedia.com

Factors Influencing Melatonin Production

Melatonin production is influenced by a range of factors, and age is one of the key players.

Melatonin levels change throughout the life. Newborns produce little to no melatonin, explaining their erratic sleep patterns.

Melatonin production peaks during childhood and adolescence, contributing to the deep sleep that youngsters enjoy.

However, as you approach middle age and beyond, melatonin levels gradually decline, impacting sleep quality and patterns.

Light exposure also plays a pivotal role in melatonin production. Your body’s internal clock relies on the light-dark cycle to determine when to release melatonin.

Exposure to bright light, especially blue light emitted by electronic devices, can suppress melatonin production, making it harder for you to wind down in the evening.

This is why experts often recommend minimizing screen time before bed to ensure healthy melatonin production.

How Does Melatonin fall us to sleep?

Ever wondered why you start feeling drowsy as the evening sets in?

Melatonin holds the answer.

This hormone is your body’s way of saying, “Lights out, it’s time to sleep!” When the sun goes down and things get darker, the pineal gland senses the reduction in light exposure.

Melatonin Secreation
Source: physio-pedia.com

The darkness triggers the release of melatonin, which, in turn, signals to your body that it’s time to unwind and prepare for rest. This process, known as sleep onset, is the first step in a restful night’s sleep.

Melatonin’s Impact on Sleep Quality

Melatonin also plays a crucial role in sleep duration. As melatonin levels rise, your body’s internal clock recognizes that it is time to maintain sleep.

This ensures that you remain asleep through the night, enjoying the benefits of uninterrupted rest.

Furthermore, melatonin enhances sleep quality, particularly regarding its influence on the two main sleep stages, Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep and deep sleep that leaves you feeling refreshed in the morning.

Melatonin has been found to increase the amount of REM sleep, which is vital for brain health and neuroplasticity.

Brain health challenges, ranging from traumatic brain injuries to various forms of dementia, often disrupt the sleep-wake cycle and interfere with REM sleep.

Deep sleep is a critical phase for brain recovery, characterized by a deep cleaning process that clears out waste products and promotes brain cell growth.

This cleaning process helps prevent chronic inflammation and the buildup of misfolded proteins associated with conditions like Alzheimer’s disease.

Melatonin and Brain Health

The influence of melatonin goes beyond simply regulating sleep; it holds various other properties that contribute to promoting health:

Antioxidant Power: Melatonin acts as a powerful antioxidant, helping to detoxify byproducts of cellular activity. It is absorbed in the mitochondria, the powerhouse of cells, where it aids in optimal biological function.

Neuroprotection: Research suggests that melatonin’s antioxidant properties contribute to neuroprotection. It can potentially reduce the size and impact of strokes and aid in brain recovery after injuries.

Mood Regulation: Melatonin’s influence on circadian rhythms and sleep quality links it to mood disorders. Disrupted sleep patterns often accompany mood challenges, making melatonin an important consideration in mood management.

Natural Sources of Melatonin for Better Sleep

While the body is naturally equipped to produce melatonin, certain foods contain traces of this sleep-inducing hormone. Incorporating these foods into your diet may complement the body’s natural production and promote healthier sleep patterns.

Nuts: When we talk about plant foods, nuts are the richest sources of melatonin. Among nuts, pistachios and almonds have a lot of melatonin, and pistachios also have a good amount of vitamin B6. Vitamin B6 helps change tryptophan, an important amino acid, into melatonin. But if you roast nuts, they might not have as much melatonin. So, if you want more melatonin, try to find raw pistachios, almonds, and other nuts instead.

Fish: Out of different types of animal foods, fish contains a lot of melatonin. A study discovered that kids who ate fish once a week said they slept better compared to those who didn’t eat fish. Fish also has plenty of omega-3s, which might help make sleep better.

Milk: You might have heard that drinking warm milk before bed can help you sleep better. This is because milk contains two things, tryptophan, and melatonin, that can make you feel sleepy.

Interestingly, the amount of melatonin in milk depends on when it’s taken from the animal. Melatonin can be much higher in milk taken at night, up to 10 times more. This is true for both cow’s milk and breast milk. However, regular baby formulas might not have melatonin in them.

Even though there isn’t strong evidence that drinking a glass of milk directly affects your sleep, many people find it comforting to have it as a bedtime routine.

Tart cherries: Tart cherries are packed with melatonin, which helps with sleep. If you want an extra strong dose of tart cherries, you can go for tart cherry juice. A study involving older adults with sleep problems discovered that drinking tart cherry juice made them sleep longer and better.

However, tart cherry juice can contain a lot of sugar. It’s a good idea to drink only around 4 to 6 ounces, and not more than 8 ounces per day, especially if you’re trying to cut down on sugar in your diet.

Bananas: Bananas are a super healthy fruit. They have melatonin, tryptophan, vitamin B6, and magnesium. These things are really good for making serotonin and helping you sleep better.

Bananas are also a kind of good carbohydrate. They can help you sleep and also make you feel more awake during the day. This is because they have complex carbohydrates that give you energy for the whole day.

Additionally, spending time outdoors and exposing yourself to natural sunlight during the day can help regulate melatonin production, ensuring that your body’s internal clock remains finely tuned.

Melatonin for Insomnia: Does It Really Help?

Insomnia is a sleep problem where a person has trouble falling asleep or staying asleep at night.

This has made many people curious about melatonin as a possible solution. Studies show that melatonin supplements might help people who have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep.

These supplements copy the melatonin your body makes naturally, which helps control when you sleep.

How Much Melatonin is Safe to Take?

An official dietary guideline for melatonin has not been set in the form of a recommended dietary allowance (RDA). The optimal dosage of melatonin varies depending on factors such as age, gender, and individual response.

The safest amount of melatonin is the smallest dose that works to help you sleep without any side effects. Usually, starting with a dose of 0.2 to 5 mg is safe.

For adults, the usual doses studied are between 1 to 10 mg, but there is no “best” dose right now. Doses around 30 mg might be unsafe.

Unless a doctor advises otherwise, it’s not recommended for young children to use melatonin. Giving young children doses of 1 to 5 milligrams (mg) could lead to seizures or other issues.

Seniors might benefit from lower doses due to potential age-related changes in metabolism.

How Long Does it Take for Melatonin to Work?

Numerous factors can influence the effectiveness of melatonin supplements.

These factors include an individual’s well-being, daily routines, and coexisting medications.

Individuals expecting melatonin supplementation should familiarize themselves with these factors, the diverse melatonin formulations accessible, and potential safety considerations associated with the utilization of this supplement.

How Fast Does Supplemental Melatonin Work?

The majority of individuals experience the effects of additional melatonin supplementation approximately two hours after it is taken.

Typically, the brain naturally produces higher levels of melatonin around one to two hours before bedtime, leading to a drowsy sensation in most individuals two hours after the increase in melatonin levels.

Melatonin supplements are available in various formulations, and the manufacturing process influences their onset speed. Depending on the specific supplement variant, effects can begin as quickly as 20 minutes.

Individuals considering melatonin supplementation should consult their healthcare professionals regarding the most suitable melatonin form for their needs.

Extended-release melatonin, often found in controlled-release pills, takes longer to show results but can help reduce nighttime awakenings. Melatonin patches, applied to the skin, release the hormone slowly and enhance sleep duration.

Fast-acting melatonin melts dissolve under the tongue for quicker absorption. It’s essential to follow dosing instructions for optimal efficacy.

Melatonin gummies are also a popular choice, though their onset time is not clearly well-known. Studies comparing gummy vitamins to pills yield mixed results on absorption.

Caution is advised when keeping melatonin gummies away from children, as they might mistake them for candy, leading to accidental overdose or choking hazards.

Always prioritize accurate usage and safety guidelines, and consult a healthcare professional if unsure.

how long does melatonin last?

Melatonin has a relatively short half-life ranging from 20 to 50 minutes, indicating that half of the initial dose is eliminated within this time frame.

This results in a total duration of about four to five hours during which melatonin remains in the body.

Effects of Melatonin

A study focused on healthy adult males who ingested a 10-milligram oral dose of melatonin revealed that the average melatonin levels reached zero after five hours.

However, various elements like age, dosage, and release formulation (fast- or extended-release) can impact the processing time of melatonin within the body.

To gain a deeper understanding of these influences on melatonin’s duration in the body, further research is needed.

Benefits and Risks of Taking Melatonin Supplements for Sleep

For those struggling with sleep disorders or jet lag, melatonin supplements can offer relief.

These supplements provide a concentrated dose of melatonin, helping you reset your sleep patterns and overcome disruptions in your sleep-wake cycle.

But before you go for the supplements, it is important to understand both the benefits and potential risks associated with taking melatonin supplements for sleep.

Benefits of Melatonin Supplements

1. Improved Sleep Onset: One of the primary reasons people turn to melatonin supplements is to combat insomnia and improve sleep onset. Melatonin’s role in signaling your body that it’s time to sleep can help you fall asleep more quickly, especially if you’re dealing with difficulty winding down at night.

2. Resetting Sleep Patterns: Traveling across time zones or working irregular hours can disrupt your circadian rhythm, making it hard to sleep at the right times. Melatonin supplements can help reset your internal clock, aiding in adjusting to new sleep schedules and reducing the effects of jet lag.

3. Managing Shift Work Sleep Disorder: For those who work night shifts or rotating shifts, maintaining a consistent sleep schedule can be challenging. Melatonin supplements may offer support in regulating sleep patterns, helping shift workers get the rest they need during unconventional hours.

4. Non-Habit Forming: Unlike some sleep medications, melatonin supplements are not habit-forming. This means you can use them as needed without worrying about developing a dependency.

Risks of Melatonin Supplements

1. Daytime Drowsiness: While melatonin is meant to signal your body that it’s time to sleep, taking too much can lead to daytime drowsiness and grogginess. Finding the right dosage is crucial to avoid these undesirable effects.

2. Sleep Disruptions: Believe it or not, taking too much melatonin can actually disrupt your sleep patterns rather than improve them. It’s important to follow recommended dosages and guidelines to ensure you’re promoting healthy sleep.

Melatonin supplements can also disrupt your natural sleep patterns if not used correctly. Taking melatonin at irregular times or in excessive amounts can confuse your body’s internal clock, leading to further sleep disturbances. It’s crucial to follow the recommended dosage and timing to avoid such disruptions.

3. Interactions with Medications: Melatonin supplements can interact with certain medications, including blood thinners, anticoagulants, and immunosuppressants. It’s essential to consult with a healthcare professional before adding melatonin to your routine, especially if you’re taking other medications.

4. Hormone Imbalance: Prolonged or excessive use of melatonin supplements can potentially disrupt your body’s natural production of the hormone. This can lead to an imbalance in your sleep-wake cycle and even affect other hormonal functions.

5.Mood Changes: Although rare, melatonin supplements have been linked to mood changes in some individuals. These changes can include increased irritability, depression, or even heightened anxiety. If you notice any shifts in your mood after starting melatonin supplementation, it’s advisable to discontinue use and consult a medical professional.

Guidelines for Choosing the Right Melatonin Supplement

With plenty of options available, it is essential to make an informed choice to ensure you’re selecting the right melatonin supplement for your needs. Here are some guidelines to consider:

1. Consult a Healthcare Professional: Before introducing any new supplement into your routine, it’s crucial to consult with a healthcare professional. They can provide personalized advice based on your health history, existing medications, and specific sleep concerns. This step ensures that the melatonin supplement won’t interact negatively with other medications or health conditions.

2. Choose a Reputable Brand: opt for well-established and reputable brands when selecting a melatonin supplement. Look for brands that have a history of producing high-quality supplements and follow good manufacturing practices. Reading customer reviews and checking for third-party certifications can also help you identify trustworthy brands.

3. Check for Third-Party Testing: Quality assurance is paramount when it comes to supplements. Choose a melatonin supplement that undergoes third-party testing for purity, potency, and quality. Third-party testing ensures that the product’s ingredients match what’s stated on the label and that it’s free from contaminants.

4. Consider Dosage: Melatonin supplements are available in various dosages, typically ranging from 0.5 to 10 milligrams (mg). Lower doses, such as 0.5 to 3 mg, are suitable for individuals who are sensitive to melatonin or those looking to adjust their sleep-wake cycle slightly. Higher doses might be more appropriate for individuals with severe sleep disorders. Start with a lower dose and gradually increase if necessary, under the guidance of a healthcare professional.

5. Time-Release Formulas: Some melatonin supplements come in time-release or extended-release formulas. These formulations release melatonin slowly over a period of time, mimicking the body’s natural melatonin production. Time-release formulas can be beneficial for individuals who have trouble staying asleep throughout the night.

6. Check for Additional Ingredients: While the primary ingredient in a melatonin supplement is, of course, melatonin, some supplements may also include additional ingredients. These could be other sleep-supportive compounds or additives. It’s important to read the ingredient list to ensure that the supplement aligns with your preferences and any potential allergies or sensitivities.

7. Consider Liquid or Sublingual Forms: Melatonin supplements are available in various forms, including capsules, tablets, gummies, liquids, and sublingual tablets (dissolve under the tongue). Liquid and sublingual forms tend to be absorbed more quickly by the body, making them ideal for individuals who want a faster-acting option.

8. Avoid Overuse: Melatonin supplements are intended for short-term use to address specific sleep issues or jet lag. Prolonged or excessive use of melatonin supplements can disrupt your body’s natural melatonin production and sleep-wake cycle. Consult with a healthcare professional to determine the appropriate duration for using melatonin supplements.

9. Start Slowly: When introducing a new supplement, it’s wise to start with the lowest effective dose. This approach allows you to assess your body’s response and minimize the risk of potential side effects. You can gradually adjust the dosage if needed, always following the guidance of a healthcare professional.

10. Monitor Your Response: Everyone’s body reacts differently to supplements. Pay attention to how your body responds to the melatonin supplement. Keep track of any changes in sleep patterns, mood, or energy levels. If you experience adverse effects or don’t notice any improvements in your sleep, consult with your healthcare provider to explore alternative solutions.








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