Melatonin is a hormone secreted by the pineal gland (a brain structure), and it is famous for regulating your sleep-wake cycle.
The purpose of melatonin supplementation is almost always to fight insomnia and normalize abnormal sleep patterns.
Nevertheless, the function of melatonin seems to be more complex than you might think.
It appears to have other benefits like improving stomach health, controlling gastroesophageal disease symptoms, and enhancing the activity of antioxidant enzymes.
This article will go into great detail about melatonin, its production and function, its medical use for sleep and other purposes, and some crucial warnings related to its dosing and side effects.
So, let’s get started!
The Physiology Of Melatonin
The most critical location for melatonin synthesis is inside the pineal gland. The pineal gland is located deep inside our brain within a structure known as the epithalamus.
The synthesis of melatonin requires the amino acid tryptophan. Tryptophan, through a complex and long chemical reaction, is eventually converted into melatonin.
But wait. What exactly caused the pineal gland to secrete melatonin? And how is it related to sleep?
When we are exposed to light, this leads to the activation of the optic nerve, which is responsible for sending electrical signals to our brain to convert these signals into the images we perceive.
However, the function of the optic nerve is more complex than that. It also activates a structure known as the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN).
Once the SCN is activated, it causes inhibition of melatonin synthesis in the pineal gland.
But if we turn off the light, the SCN won’t be activated, and, as a result, it won’t inhibit melatonin synthesis, leading to an increase in its levels in our blood.
This is why turning off the light can make you feel sleepy!
Interestingly, melatonin production fluctuates throughout our lives. It decreases steadily after puberty but undergoes a significant drop around the ages of 41-60.
This is why insomnia is common among the elderly.
Effects of melatonin on the body
Alright, so you just learned that melatonin is a complex substance secreted in the pineal gland that’s in the middle of the brain.
With that in mind, let’s explore some of the most prominent effects that melatonin and its supplementation have on the human body!
Sleep And Melatonin
The primary function of melatonin is sleep. The majority of studies noticed that the primary mechanism of melatonin is via shortening the time it takes to fall asleep, also known as sleep latency, in healthy adults. (1)(2).
Studies found that melatonin was also influential in improving sleep in patients with insomnia.
Surprisingly, melatonin was shown to be effective in all age groups, and its usage was free of withdrawal and other side effects.
Moreover, melatonin is effective in jet lag. Jet lag is a term used to describe when your sleep pattern is disturbed after plane travel between different time zones.
Scientifically, this happens due to dysregulation between the internal clock (located in SCN) and the external regulators of time (light and darkness) (3).
Other Benefits Of Melatonin
Besides the obvious sleep-regulating mechanisms of melatonin, and the benefits it can have on them when supplemented, there are other, lesser-known benefits.
Here are some of the more surprising ones!
Melatonin Can Help In stomach Ulcers
Several studies have found that melatonin exerts a notable protective effect against Helicobacter pylori-induced stomach ulcers.
This effect occurs when melatonin is taken alone or with other agents (like omeprazole) (4).
Melatonin & Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)
After ingestion of 3mg of melatonin, symptoms of GERD were reduced significantly.
Melatonin also decreases heartburn symptoms and seems to have a strengthening effect on the lower esophageal sphincter (5).
Melatonin Can Help Relieve Symptoms Of Tinnitus
Numerous studies found that melatonin can help reduce tinnitus symptoms, which happens when someone experiences ringing or other noises in one or both ears (6).
Melatonin As An Antioxidant
Melatonin has a powerful antioxidant and neuroprotective effect.
Specifically, melatonin can slightly increase the antioxidant enzyme profile.
The studies also noticed that this antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effect leads to a slight decrease in blood pressure (7).
Intake Recommendations, Safety & Toxicity
A 0.5 mg dose of melatonin is sufficient to regulate the sleep cycle and reduce sleep latency. Up to 3-5 mg is okay if the initial dose doesn’t work.
Note that a higher dose doesn’t mean faster or better sleep. Therefore, use a dose only sufficient to induce sleep.
Take melatonin 30 minutes before going to bed. This will lead to the best results.
Taking melatonin doesn’t lead to dependence, addiction, or withdrawal symptoms if you stop taking it.
Therefore, melatonin is generally safe if you take it within the prescribed dose.
Melatonin is the sleep hormone! Our pineal gland produces it in response to darkness.
If you have insomnia or any sleep problem, you might want to consider taking it.
Melatonin also has other benefits like easing stomach ulcers, improved GERD symptoms like heartburn, and antioxidant activity.
Have you ever supplemented melatonin, and what were the benefits? Share your experience below!