Do you wish you could sleep more soundly and feel more rested?
Sleep disturbances and insomnia are frequent complaints I hear about from my patients. So I though it would be useful to talk about a hormone that most people are deficient in as they age and can have a profound effect on quality and quantity of sleep: melatonin.
You may already be thinking, “Yeah, yeah, I tried melatonin. It didn’t work for me.” Or,“Melatonin gave me nightmares.” Or, “Melatonin doesn’t work as well as Ambien.” My clinical experience has shown me that melatonin, when used correctly, is extremely effective. There is evidence that melatonin may have a role in the biologic regulation of not only circadian rhythms and sleep but also mood, reproduction, tumor growth, and aging.
But first, we need to talk about the small gland in the center of the brain that produces melatonin.
Melatonin, which is a hormone, is secreted by the pineal gland, a small gland located in the center of the brain. Three centuries ago, the French philosopher René Descartes described the pineal gland as “the seat of the soul.” The pineal gland controls energy production and usage in the body through the effects of melatonin as well as other substances. The pineal gland tells our body where it should use energy, to make antibodies, hormones or certain enzymes. Melatonin has the ability to regulate circadian rhythms and has important effects on reproductive function of many animals.
The light-transducing ability of the pineal gland has led some to call the pineal the “third eye.” It is frequently referred to as the “master endocrine gland.” Sort of a conductor to the orchestra that is the body.
Melatonin production increases when light input to the retina is low, and decreases when more light reaches the eye. Studies show that melatonin is converted to ramelteon, which causes sleep onset to be faster and increases the duration of sleep. Meaning you fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer. Studies also show that ramelteon does not have the withdrawal effects or dependence associated with other sleep aids such as Ambien or Lunesta.
It is one of the first hormones that declines in humans as we get older, beginning as early as puberty. This may explain why, as a child and teen, you could probably sleep for 8-12 hours per night soundly, even if there were a marching band next to your bed.
Personally, when I use melatonin I sleep more soundly, and rarely wake up during the night. And if I do wake up, I fall back asleep easily. I wake up feeling rested and refreshed.
Melatonin: Not just for sleeping anymore
Beyond sleep, melatonin has may benefits, including important anti-aging benefits. Here’s a list of some of melatonin’s benefits beyond sleep:
- Lifespan: Preclinical studies have shown that melatonin increases the lifespan of animals by up to 20%.
- Antioxidant power: Melatonin is an extremely powerful antioxidant. It plays a vital role in the body’s defense against numerous cell-damaging free radicals. Melatonin has 200% more antioxidant power than vitamin E and is superior to glutathione as well as vitamin C in reducing oxidative damage or “rusting” of cells.
- Osteoporosis: Research from animal models has showed that melatonin has beneficial effects on bone repair and bone density.
- Alzheimer’s Disease: Melatonin has a neuroprotective effect, reducing oxidative damage to brain cells. It can also help delay the onset of Alzheimer’s disease by protecting the brain against the development of the beta-amyloid plaques that are the hallmark of Alzheimer’s.
- Cancer: Research shows that melatonin has anticarcinogenic properties – meaning it can prevent the growth of cancer cells as well as interfere with cancer cell multiplication and growth.
- Immunity: Melatonin can activate T-helper cells to protect the body from foreign invaders and immune-related diseases.
- Cholesterol: Studies show that melatonin can decrease total and LDL cholesterol and increase HDL cholesterol.
- Heart Disease: Animal models show that melatonin helps protect against heart muscle injury, reducing the amound to damage done by heart attacks as well and improve heart muscle function after heart attacks.
How to use melatonin correctly
Much of the reason many have a poor response to melatonin is threefold, in my opinion.
Firstly, many take either too little or too much. Some people require as little as 1 mg, while others require up to 25 mg to receive the same benefit. That’s a huge range! Having thedose that is right for you is key.
Secondly, much of the commercially available, over-the-counter melatonin is manufactured in China and may contain contaminants; the quality control can be very poor if you are not getting your melatonin from a reputable source. I don’t know about you, but for me, if I am taking a supplement or nutraceutical, especially a hormone, I am going to get the best quality I can.
Thirdly, many take melatonin when they need other hormones as well. Many symptoms are multi-causal. So while melatonin may be part of the problem, it may also be human growth hormone (HGH), testosterone, thyroid, progesterone, or others that are the problem as well.
So when I prescribe melatonin as part of an Age Management protocol, I do so after measuring all the key hormones that may be playing a role. Then, I use only the highest quality manufactured pharmaceutical-grade melatonin, or I have a compounding pharmacy formulate 100% pure melatonin. I start at a low dose, based upon my patient’s weight, age, and symptoms, and titrate upward as needed to receive the greatest benefit. It my patient is not having any effect, I increase the dose. If they are experiencing morning sleepiness or headache, I decrease the dose accordingly. I use the highest dose tolerable since I believe the benefits of melatonin are so great.
Melatonin’s effects are best when used as part of a comprehensive Age Management Program, with all hormones optimized. Your hormones work together, much like a great symphony, with each hormone playing an important part. Melatonin is no exception.