A Good Nights Sleep With Melatonin

Photo of Sharol Tilgner
Photo of a cat sleeping in it's kitty bed.

Getting A Good Nights Sleep

A good nights sleep sets the tone for the whole day. We all need it, but many do not get it. This is the time our bodies repair from daily damage. This is when we are nourished at the deepest level of our being. It is thought that 70% of people do not get adequate sleep. That means a lot of people are running around in disrepair and believe me, they feel it. 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. This happens as we age, but it also happens due to various health conditions and stressors we place on our bodies.

What is Melatonin

Many people take melatonin to help them get adequate and deep 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. (I mention these reactions as some of you have interest in metabolic acitivities) 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 is also helpful in chronic inflammatory response syndrome due to water-damaged buildings or what I call "moldy people".

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.

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 neurobehavioral 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.

 

The Gut Has 400 Times More Melatonin Than The Pineal Gland

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.)

So, why don't we get sleepy in the day time from all this melatonin? This is an interesting question and I don't have an answer.  I do know from experience that if someone takes melatonin in the day time for reasons other than assisting sleep, they don't usually get sleepy either. However, it does have this effect on people in the evening when they take it 30-60 minutes prior to going to bed. It causes them to feel sleepy and to sleep deeper.

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 affects the gut flora. I am also guessing the gut flora affect 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, so besides tryptophan from food, I imagine the bacteria are providing quite a bit of tryptophan to make that melatonin found in the gut.  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. It appears to 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 levels

Both light at night and non visible electromagnetic energy decrease the conversion of serotonin to melatonin. Everyone seems to know about the relationship of light at night causing melatonin to decrease. However, less people seem to know that electromagnetic frequencies (EMFs) from various electrical devices in our environment decreases melatonin. A review study of over 100 research articles relating to this issue was published in 2013. The results  of the review showed  significant disruption of melatonin due to exposure to weak EMFs, which may possibly lead to long-term health effects in humans. Although the mechanisms are incompletely described in research, the alterations in melatonin production due to nonvisible electromagnetic field exposure seem to be similar as that to visible light. Our bodies appear to treat the EMFs similar as if it was a bright light on. This might make you re-think having any electronic equipment, especially cells phones near your bed at night. 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.

Examples Of How EMFs Affect Melatonin
  • 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.
Other Substances That Affect Melatonin
  • 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 the levels.

Natural methods to enhance melatonin

Turn Off The Lights And Darken The Room

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.

Expose Yourself To Sunlight Each Day

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. It is also better to get this light in the morning or at least first half of the day. 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.

Remove EMFs From Your Environment

Consider hard wiring your electronic gadgets and remove all wifi items. This means turn off wifi on everything including your appliances. At the very least remove the electronic devices from your bedroom and turn off the wifi at night before you go to bed.

Meditation/Prayer

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.

Bliss

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.

Barley And Beer

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

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

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 as it can cause sores in your mouth from contact with the mucous membranes.

High Tryptophan Foods

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

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 30-60 minutes before bed. The general amount used is 0.3-5 mg. Often a prolonged release form is used. However, not everyone needs a prolonged release form.  Some people find that melatonin works great to help them sleep but then eventually does not work any more.

 

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, AIDS and a variety of chronic inflammatory conditions. However, this is always 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?

Many nervine herbs have been used to promote sleep. They have slightly different actions and are not indicated for all individuals. Some such as Kava work only short term although very well, and Kava additionally has side effects that should be considered  before using it. I have highlighted those that are used more commonly.

A List Of Nervines To Consider
  • California poppy - Eschscholzia californica
  • Chamomile - Matricaria recutita
  • Hops - Humulus lupulus
  • Jujube, wild/ Suan Zao Ren - Ziziphi spinosae
  • Kava kava - Piper methysticum
  • Lavender - Lavandula officinalis
  • Linden flower - Tilia spp.
  • Marijuana - Cannabis sativa
  • Mother wort - Leonurus cardiaca
  • Pasque flower - Anemone spp.
  • Passion flower - Passiflora incarnata
  • Valerian - Valeriana officinalis
  • Vervain - Verbena officinalis
  • Wild lettuce - Lactuca virosa

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. Glycine (an amino acid and inhibitory neurotransmitter) may also help people sleep better at night.

Ideas To Help Promote Sleep
  • Keep noises to minimum.
  • Darken the bedroom.
  • Avoid large meals before bed.
  • Don't drink caffeine after 2PM.
  • Remove EMFs as much as possible.
  • Get regular exercise.
  • Don't nap in the afternoon.
  • Don't get into exciting conversations or projects in the last hour before bed.
  • Limit use of computer screens at night.
  • Exercise during the day.
  • Meditate/pray prior to going to sleep.
  • Take care of your gut. bacteria.

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