A good nights sleep sets the tone for the whole day. We all need it, but many do not get it. It is thought that 70% of people do not get adequate sleep. There are various causative factors that keep people awake at night or cause their sleep to be restless. One of the physiolgical causes is decreased melatonin.
What is Melatonin
Many people take melatonin to help them get adequate sleep. However, you can naturally raise melatonin levels also. More about that below.
Melatonin is largely made by the pineal gland from serotonin. Smaller amounts are made by many other organs like the retina, gastrointestinal tract, thymus, bone marrow, lymphocytes etc. To make melatonin, tryptophan is converted into serotonin. Serotonin is converted to melatonin by three steps involving a series of enzymes that add an acetyl, methyl and finally a hydroxyl group to the indole ring. Melatonin levels naturally rise at night. This starts about 1 hour after the lights are turned off.
Melatonin plays an important role in various functions of the body. We are discussing how it helps us go to sleep, but it also has other effects on the body. Some of melatonin's effects are circadian biological rhythm regulation (sleep and body clock regulator), immunoregulatory activity, oncostatic actions (counteracts effects of carcinogens or inhibits cancer), control of reproductive functions and digestive functions, regulation of mood and slowing down the aging process. Melatonin may act as a mediator of inter-organ communication such as found between the gut and the liver. Melatonin is also a powerful antioxidant.
Altered melatonin and serotonin levels may be involved in the development of alzheimer's disease, tumor formation, obesity, ischemic heart disease, and other degenerative processes associated with aging. Melatonin has also been found to be effective in combating various bacterial and viral infections and I think we all know it is used to prevent or reduce jet lag. Oral melatonin given to aging mice will prolong their survival and keep them in a more youthful state. Melatonin may be helpful in Parkinson's disease, Amyotrophic lateral Sclerosis, and epilepsy. Melatonin may be associated with multiple sclerosis through its effects on biological cycles and the immune system.
Melatonin influences the activity of many hormones and is, in turn, influenced by them
through feedback mechanisms.
Melatonin is increased in mania, which is consistent with a condition associated with increased sympathetic activity. There is a possible relationship between pineal hormonal activity and eating disorders, such as anorexia nervosa. It is unclear if the abnormalities are the cause or effect of the anorexia nervosa process.
What is the pineal gland (The gland that makes melatonin.)
Melatonin and serotonin are both made by the pineal gland as well as several peptides.
Melatonin and serotonin are both made by the pineal gland as well as several peptides.
This gland has been called "the seat of the soul" and "the sphincter of the mind". The pineal gland is a photoreceptor organ that is closely related to the eye and optic nerve. It responds to light input from the retina. From the physiologic perspective, the pineal is well situated to serve as a hub for the system of input, feedback and regulation among numerous diverse brain regions. It synchronizes many of the hormonal and neurobehvioral activities to circadian (light/dark) rhythms.
Control and feedback mechanisms by which the pineal hormones interact with target cells underlie the pineal's function as a link between an external environmental stimulus and internal end organ (homeostatic) responses.
Light causes configurational and chemical changes in the rods and cones of the retina. These changes are the basis of transduction of light energy into neural signals, which can be passed along neural pathways to the pineal. In addition, pineal cells themselves have photoreceptor properties (like our eyes) demonstrated by recordings of responses to light stimulation of isolated pineal cells, which show electrical reactions to illumination.
Hold on There. Does the Gut Really Have 400 Times More Melatonin than the Pineal Gland?
The short answer is yes. The gut does have 400 time more melatonin than the pineal gland. The gut has multiple types of receptors for melatonin and they are involved in regulating gastrointestinal movement, as well as inflammation and pain. Although you can detect pineal gland derived melatonin in the gut, the gut levels stay stable even when the pineal gland is removed. This means the melatonin is probably being made in the gut and for sure most of it is not coming from the pineal gland. Most of the daytime blood levels of melatonin appear to be coming from the gut and are made from tryptophan. Increased age brings on increased level of melatonin in the gut of the animals. (Most studies on melatonin are on animals.)
The function of melatonin in the gut is less clear than the function of melatonin in the central nervous system. In the gut it seems to regulate intestinal motion, the immune system, gastrointestinal secretion and the release of peptides involved in energy balance. It is involved in antioxidative mechanisms, and regulation of blood vessel tone to modify perfusion. Lastly, but very important, it effects the gut flora. I am also guessing the gut flora effect the melatonin levels too. The reason I say that is that gut bacteria are involved in making tryptophan in the gut via the shikimate pathway. One thing more I would mention is that glyphosate/RoundUp(that is poured onto GMO crops that are resistant to it) has been shown to deplete tryptophan that melatonin is made from. One method this can happen would be through its inhibition of an enzyme used in the gut bacteria's shikimate pathway that makes tryptophan.
This could be a whole article on itself, so lets leave it for now.
What disturbs melatonin levelsBoth light at night and non visible electromagnetic energy decrease the conversion of serotonin to melatonin. Although the mechanisms are incompletely described in research, the alterations in melatonin production due to light appear to be the same as those due to nonvisible electromagnetic field exposure. Although the mechanisms for the influence of nonvisible electromagnetic energy on melatonin formation are not known, the retina is thought to be the magnetoreceptor. Alterations in the retinal magnetoreceptor are transmitted to the suprachiasmatic nucleus.
Static magnetic fields consistently and reproducibly perturb circadian melatonin rhythm. The effects are reflected in alterations in levels of cyclic adenosine monophosphate (cAMP), N-acetyltransferase (NAT) activity, hydroxyindole-O-methyltransferase (HIOMT) activity, and pineal and blood melatonin concentrations, all of which are decreased by magnetic field exposure.
6-hydroxymelatonin excretion in urine is lower in users of traditional magnetic field-emitting as opposed to low level magnetic field electric blankets.
Artificial magnetic fields may attenuate seizure activity by altering the functioning of the pineal gland and melatonin levels.
Ethanol at usually consumed levels was shown to inhibit melatonin production in healthy volunteers. There was an associated increase in noradrenergic activity. The combined effects may be associated with disturbances of sleep and performance observed with this substance.
Beta blockers given for high blood pressure reduce production of melatonin.
The pineal gland and melatonin seem to interact with several psychiatric drugs, especially antidepressant and antipsychotic medications that operate on the beta-adrenergic system. Chlorpromazine and haloperidol inhibit hydroxyindole-O-methyltransferase which is a necessary enzyme for melatonin production. Chronic lithium administration suppresses a shift in the peak night-time melatonin concentration and decreases hormone levels.
Natural methods to enhance melatonin
At night melatonin is stimulated by darkness and suppressed by light. Keep your lights off at night. This includes night lights, clock radios and computer/phone lights. Street lights can effect your melatonin production too. You need total darkness.
It is probably obvious that darkness makes one sleep and light wakes one up. However, it may not be as obvious that different parts of the light spectrum will effect you differently. The blue part of the light spectrum keeps us awake. The red end of the light spectrum is less likely to cause problems.
You can purchase "low blue lights" which give off an amber light rather than the blue light that suppresses melatonin production.
You need light in the daytime to get good melatonin production at night and keep you alert during the day. In the daytime getting exposure to light, especially sunshine is important. Taking a walk every morning or a morning meditation in the sun is a great way to expose yourself to light. It is the combination of brilliant day light and darkness at night that produces healthy levels of melatonin.
So, get up early and go for a walk in the sun. At night, go to bed early.
One of the most effective methods of producing melatonin when this all fails is meditation. Meditation will stimulate the pineal gland if you do it often enough for long enough periods of time. I have found this to work wonderfully. The best time to do it is before bed but any time you meditate it will be helpful.
Doing things to bring bliss into your life will help stimulate your pineal gland. Play with your dog, enjoy your family and friends, meditate, work in your garden, walk in the woods. Consider any activity that brings you bliss to be a necessary part of your day. It will also make you a great person for others to be around.
Some foods contain melatonin or increase melatonin
Many foods contain melatonin. It has been found in vegetables, fruits, grains wine, beer and meat.
Melatonin is generated in the brewing of beer and fermenting of wine. Barley, which is malted and ground in the early process, and the yeast, during fermentation, are the largest contributors of melatonin during beer making.
Chaste tree berry in healthy males ages 20-32 in doses of 120-480 mg per day showed as much as a 60% increase in melatonin, especially at night. I should mention however, that Chaste tree berry has been known to decrease the sex drive.
Feverfew contains 1,300 ng/gram melatonin fresh and 7,000 ng/gram dry. This is more than many of the foods usually thought of as containing melatonin such as tart cherries 15-18 ng/gram, almonds 29 ng/gram, sunflower seed 29 ng/gram. It is interesting that fresh feverfew has been used for migraines and cluster headaches and that melatonin has also been used for migraines and cluster headaches. Make sure you do not use fresh feverfew without taking it appropriately or it may cause sores in your mouth.
Foods that are high in tryptophan (Such as meat, cheese, sesame seeds) will also enhance melatonin as long as you are able to aceytylate and methylate appropriately. (See above how tryptophan is changed into melatonin.)
Walnuts contain 2.5-4.5 ng/gram. When given as a sole food to rats it increased their melatonin 3 times the normal level.
What happens if you don't have enough melatonin?
Decreased immune function, blood pressure instability, insomnia, diabetic microangiopathy (capillary damage), depression/seasonal effective disorder, increased risk of osteoporosis, decreased free radical scavenging, increased plaques in the brain such as those seen in alzheimer's disease, accelerated cancer cell proliferation/tumor growth, leukemia are some possible outcomes.
When do people take melatonin for sleep and how much?
It is usually taken 90-120 minutes before bed. You should check with your health care practitioner to make sure it is safe for you to take it. The general amount used is 0.3-5 mg. Often a prolonged release form is used. Your practitioner can help you decide on a dosage. Some people find that melatonin works great to help them sleep but then eventually does not work any more. Most of them find if they stop taking it for a few days, and then start up again, it will once more assist in a good nights sleep.
Are there side effects to melatonin?
Melatonin in high doses has been used as a contraceptive in Europe. High doses are also used in cancer and AIDS. However, this is under the supervision of a practitioner. The most common side effects that have been reported are headaches, nausea, next-morning sleepiness, fluctuations of hormones and nightmares.
What about other things to promote Sleep?
All the nervine herbs have been used to promote sleep. Seek guidance from your Naturopath as to which nervines might be best for you.
Additionally a person needs adequate nutrients such as b vitamins, calcium, magnesium and zinc as well as enough tryptophan (amino acid) from their diet or as supplements.
Keep noises to minimum, avoid large meals before bed, don't drink caffeine after 2PM, get regular exercise, don't nap in the afternoon, don't get into exciting conversations or projects in the last hour before bed, meditate prior to going to sleep. Additionally, you might read the blog on gut bacteria as if they are not happy, it effects your sleep too.