Melatonin: The sleep hormone - Colonic Training

Melatonin: The sleep hormone

Melatonin is the night and sleep hormone. It makes you tired and ensures that we go to bed on time. However, melatonin not only regulates the human body clock. It has many other responsibilities. A lack of melatonin is therefore associated not only with sleep disorders and daytime sleepiness, but also with heartburn, cancer and degenerative diseases of the brain. Natural measures can be used to increase the melatonin level again – without having to take the hormone.

Increase melatonin naturally

Melatonin is a hormone produced specifically in the pineal gland (epiphysis) — a tiny gland in the brain ( 1 ). In the evening, melatonin levels rise to make you tired; in the morning it drops again so that we can get fit. If this balance is disturbed and the level does not rise in the evening and at night, this can have many unpleasant consequences. It is therefore worth increasing the nocturnal melatonin level for several reasons.

Melatonin ensures good sleep

The main task of melatonin is to regulate the sleep-wake cycle. In the evening, the hormone makes you tired and ensures restful sleep. That is why melatonin is also known as the sleep hormone or night hormone.

Melatonin is a powerful antioxidant

Melatonin is an important endogenous antioxidant that fights oxidative stress and prevents or reduces cell damage in the body. Therefore, the hormone has long been on the market in the USA as a popular anti-aging substance for delaying the aging process. For the same reason, a healthy level of melatonin is considered an enemy of cancer, in the presence of which cancer cells thrive poorly.

As recently as April 2017, researchers at Berkeley University of California wrote that good sleep is a real fountain of youth, especially in old age, and that it is therefore better to take natural measures (e.g. measures that naturally raise melatonin) than sleeping pills to promote sleep ( 2 ). As the latter would numb the brain but would not ensure restful sleep.

Melatonin protects nerve cells in the brain

Melatonin—unlike many other substances—can quickly cross the blood-brain barrier ( 3 ). Therefore, not only the amount of melatonin produced in the brain can have an effect on the brain, but also melatonin that is ingested through food or as a dietary supplement. The hormone now accumulates in the brain – so that ultimately the amount of hormone in the brain is significantly higher than in the blood plasma.

This increased level in the brain now shows – as studies have shown – neuroprotective effects, which means that melatonin protects the nerve cells in the brain – especially when the body is affected by strong oxidative stress or intense inflammatory processes, which is the case with the typical neurodegenerative diseases: Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s, but also in the case of stroke and poisoning with chemicals that can damage the brain.

Corresponding studies have already shown promising results. Because a high level of melatonin seems to stop the pathological loss of nerve and glial cells. (Glial cells are tissue cells in the brain.)

Melatonin instead of acid blockers

Melatonin deficiency can lead to heartburn and, conversely, an increase in the melatonin level can remedy heartburn. Because the sleep hormone has an inhibiting effect on gastric acid production, it also controls the function of the sphincter muscle between the stomach and the esophagus and seems to protect the esophagus from acid-related damage.

Often, people with heartburn also have trouble sleeping. If this is the case, the suspicion arises that there is a melatonin deficiency and that it is the cause of both problems. If you increase the level of the sleep hormone to a healthy level, then both the excessive acid production and sleep can be regulated.

Anyone who is already taking acid blockers can take the hormone at the same time (but only in the evening, as it makes you tired) and try to gradually wean off the acid blockers.

Therefore, if you know how to increase the level of the sleep hormone in a natural way, you can achieve good prevention against many diseases with these easy-to-implement measures alone. But first, it is important to get to know the metabolism of the hormone in the human body:

Melatonin – The sleep hormone

Melatonin works closely with cortisol, the well-known stimulant and stress hormone from the adrenal glands. As soon as it gets dark, the pineal gland releases melatonin into the bloodstream. We get tired. The concentration of the sleep hormone in the blood continues to rise until well after midnight. Significantly more so in younger people than in older people.

As morning approaches, less melatonin is released ( 4 ) ( 5 ). At the same time, increased levels of cortisol are now being released into the blood. A cortisol peak in the morning makes us wake up. During the course of the day, the cortisol level drops again, so that in the evening the melatonin can induce sleep again.

Darkness promotes the formation of the sleep hormone in the pineal gland, while light inhibits hormone production ( 6 ). The pineal gland is so well informed about the light conditions because it is connected to the light sensors in the eye.

Therefore, the melatonin level is low during the day, yes, barely measurable. On summer days it is lower than on winter days. Because the days in winter are often gloomy and also very short. Most of the time you also spend a lot of time in an apartment where there is even less light. The light exposure is then often not sufficient to completely stop melatonin production.

Even if a high level of melatonin in the evening is helpful for a good night’s sleep, it is of course counterproductive during the day. One becomes sleepy and even depressed, which might explain the low mood some people experience during winter ( 7 ).

Melatonin is formed from serotonin

Incidentally, melatonin is formed from serotonin, the substance known as the happiness hormone ( 8 ). So if you suffer from a serotonin deficiency – which is also repeatedly associated with depression – sooner or later you could also suffer from a melatonin deficiency.

The essential amino acid L-tryptophan is required as a raw material for both hormones. Serotonin is first produced from it and then the sleep hormone at night. A good supply of tryptophan is therefore one of the measures that can increase melatonin.

The better the melatonin production then works, the better, deeper and more restful you sleep and the better the brain and nerve cells are protected from damage. On the other hand, if you cultivate unfavorable habits that lower the level (see below: Factors that lower melatonin levels), then the symptoms and consequences of a melatonin deficiency occur:

Melatonin deficiency – the symptoms

Symptoms that can indicate a melatonin deficiency include the following:

  1. Difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep
  2. Light sleep with frequent awakenings
  3. Irregular sleep times in shift work cannot be compensated for
  4. Dreamlessness
  5. Depression ( 9 )
  6. Mood swings
  7. Migraine
  8. Heartburn
  9. Poor memory
  10. Faster skin aging

It is possible that a melatonin deficiency can also contribute to the cause of serious diseases such as fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS), cancer (10), Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and many other, especially chronic degenerative diseases.

The sleep disorders alone lead to further problems, such as feeling exhausted during the day, unable to concentrate and not really being able to perform. Poor sleep can also lead to other problems in the long term, such as: poor bone health and an increased risk of stroke and heart attack ( 11 ) ( 12 ) ( 13 ).

Of course, many of these symptoms and diseases can also have other causes, so they do not always have to be related to a melatonin deficiency. To be on the safe side, you can first have your melatonin level measured.

Measure melatonin: in blood, saliva or urine

You can have your melatonin level measured in your blood, but also in your saliva or urine. The doctor does blood tests. Melatonin home tests (usually saliva tests) are available online.

When you have a test kit sent to you with detailed instructions, take a saliva sample at 2 a.m. – when the melatonin level should have reached its peak – send the sample to the appropriate laboratory and then receive the result by post or email, usually with tips on what to do in the individual case (if there is a need for action).

Our recommendation: Melatonin Test Kit – measure melatonin levels with a saliva test at home

Factors that lower melatonin

Aside from the fact that being overweight is associated with lower overall levels of the sleep hormone ( 14 ) ( 15 ), some bad habits you can control that lower melatonin include the following:

  1. Sitting too long in the evening in front of the television or at the computer until late at night.
  2. Drinking a lot of coffee or other caffeinated beverages, such as energy drinks and black or green tea in the afternoon.
  3. Alcohol.
  4. Smoking.
  5. Doing too much exercise too late in the evening.
  6. Being constantly under stress that won’t let you relax.
  7. Suffering from a serotonin deficiency.
  8. Drugs are taken that have a negative effect on melatonin levels as a side effect. These include very common medications such as beta-blockers, ASA or cortisone preparations.
  9. Sleeping during the day or at irregular times, e.g. because you work in shift work ( 16 ).

This brings out to the things you can do to increase your melatonin naturally.

Basic measures: increase melatonin naturally

Basic measures that naturally increase melatonin include the following. First, review your habits and change them if necessary:

1. No screen activity in the evening

Limit computer work to daytime hours. Watch one movie in the evening, but not two or three, so don’t sit in front of the cinder box until late at night. Your sleep hormone would be particularly happy about one or the other evening without a screen, whether TV, computer, tablet or smartphone (but of course also your eyes, your neck, your thumb joints, etc.).

How about an audiobook that can also entertain you in cozy candlelight? Otherwise, the bright screens prevent sufficient melatonin from forming.

2. No caffeine

Cut out caffeinated drinks or limit them to mid-morning if you want more melatonin in the evening. It has long been known that caffeine has an extremely negative effect on the amount and quality of sleep ( 17 ). It also prolongs the sleep phase.

For example, in a 2015 study, scientists found that a dose of caffeine equivalent to a double espresso lowers melatonin levels enough to cause a 40-minute phase delay in the sleep-wake cycle if the espresso is taken three hours before bedtime ( 18 ). If you were to fall asleep naturally at 11 p.m., then after a double espresso (if drunk at 8 p.m.) you would not fall asleep until around 11.40 p.m.

3. No alcohol and no cigarettes

It’s best to stop drinking alcohol if you want to increase your melatonin levels. Also do not smoke or take other stimulant drugs. If you can’t quit smoking, stop smoking at least 4 hours before bed.

One study ( 19 ) showed: As for alcohol, even light drinking can lower levels of the sleep hormone. However, another study did not show this effect on melatonin levels ( 20 ). It is believed that these inconsistent results could be due to the fact that some wines contain melatonin themselves while others do not (depending on the grape variety). To be on the safe side – and also because of the other harmful effects of alcohol – it is advisable not to drink (or only very rarely).

Barley is also a food that contains melatonin, which is thought to be why beer can increase melatonin levels, as a study of strong beer (7.2 percent alcohol) showed. The seven healthy volunteers drank between 330ml (women) and 660ml (men) of this beer and 45 minutes later had a noticeably elevated level of the sleep hormone.

The majority of alcohol-melatonin studies, however, point to a mostly melatonin-lowering effect of alcohol, especially if it is not limited to one drink in the evening but is drunk over the course of the evening, which is usually the norm.

So one drink still seems harmless – at least in terms of melatonin levels – two drinks, on the other hand, lead to a 9 percent reduction in melatonin levels, three drinks to a 15 percent reduction and from four drinks you have to with a 17 percent reduction in the night Expect a reduction and thus a less restful sleep.

These effects of alcohol were observed independently of body weight and exposure to light. So if you have been drinking alcohol regularly up to now, you can increase your melatonin level simply by consistently abstaining from alcohol.

4. No late night exercise

Sport is of course great. However, if you suffer from insomnia, late-evening exercise isn’t ideal, as it boosts your metabolism, kicks your circulation into high gear, and raises cortisol levels, all of which combine to make you quite alert and keep melatonin levels from surging.

You should have finished your training by 9 p.m. at the latest – preferably earlier. The optimal time for training should be between 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. and should also achieve the best training effects and performance.

5. Relaxation against stress

It is well known that people who suffer from constant stress also sleep poorly. Hardly anyone who is worrying can turn off their thoughts so easily in the evening. If possible, of course, a solution should be found that could reduce the stress . But that is not always so easy. A wide variety of relaxation techniques help here to ensure that stress is not transferred so strongly to the physical level and there, for example, lowers melatonin levels.

Meditation, yoga, progressive muscle tension according to Jacobson and many more methods are available for this purpose.

Another way to cope better with stress is to take so-called adaptogens. These are natural substances, from plants that make you more resistant to stress. You can then handle stress better without immediately falling into the usual stress response patterns. Adaptogens include Rhodiola rosea, Ashwagandha as well as probiotics containing certain probiotic strains of bacteria.

6. Fix serotonin deficiency

Serotonin is needed for melatonin production. If there is a low serotonin level, then it could also develop a low melatonin level. The measures that increase the melatonin level therefore also include measures that remedy a possible serotonin deficiency or that provide the body with all the building blocks it needs for serotonin production:

  1. L-Tryptophan – an essential amino acid ( 21 ) ( 22 ): Melatonin production in the body depends on the amount of tryptophan available ( 23 ). If someone consumes little tryptophan, melatonin formation is severely restricted. Since tryptophan cannot always cross the blood-brain barrier in sufficient quantities, it makes more sense in some cases to take 5-HTP. Why? In the brain, tryptophan first produces 5-HTP and then serotonin. 5-HTP crosses the blood-brain barrier more easily than tryptophan, so 5-HTP is often better at supporting serotonin production.
  2. Vitamin B3 and Vitamin B6 ( 24 )
  3. Magnesium
  4. Zink
  5. Vitamin B1, since a vitamin B1 deficiency, even at a low level, is said to reduce the serotonin concentrations in the brain (and also in the tissue).
  6. Folic acid and vitamin B12 are also indirectly involved in the synthesis of serotonin and the sleep hormone, as they are involved in the production and regeneration of a cofactor, which in turn is involved in the formation of the two hormones.

7. Review medication

Review the medications you are taking with your doctor. Clarify whether one or the other could lead to insomnia or disturbances in the serotonin-melatonin balance, e.g. some blood pressure medication and blood thinners (ASA). If you must take cortisone, always do so as early in the morning as possible (between 6 and 7 a.m.).

Also clarify whether all the medications you are currently taking are still necessary. If so, then ask for supplements that don’t also mess up your sleep-wake cycle and prevent an increase in melatonin.

8. Sleep hygiene

Sleep hygiene refers to measures that ensure a good and sufficiently long sleep (7 hours per night). First and foremost, this means that you allow your body the luxury of a rhythm. So avoid irregular bedtimes. If possible, go to bed at the same time and get up at the same time, even on weekends. Also, never sleep less than 7 hours.

Your melatonin levels will thus reliably increase at the usual time in the evening, while cortisol and serotonin levels will increase at the usual time in the morning.

If, on the other hand, you repeatedly sleep too little or irregularly, your cortisol level not only rises, it also remains high for much longer, since it is broken down six times more slowly than in people who have good sleep hygiene. With a high cortisol level, however, restful sleep is not to be thought of.

Chronically elevated cortisol levels, in turn, can increase diabetes ( 25 ) and cardiovascular risk, and lead to obesity more easily.

Other measures to increase melatonin

You have now reviewed your habits and can decide which ones you want to change in favor of your melatonin. Apart from that, there are other targeted measures that you can implement to increase your sleep hormone back to a healthy level. The easiest way to influence the melatonin-serotonin balance is with light or darkness:

Fill up on vitamin D during the day

Exposing yourself to sunlight or bright lights during the day will give your sleep-wake cycle the right boost ( 26 ). The nocturnal melatonin can be broken down, you are fit and efficient – and in the evening new sleep hormones are reliably released so that you can fall asleep quickly and wake up rested in the morning. It is ideal if you can use the first morning light for a walk or a jog.

Since exposure to sunlight also builds healthy levels of vitamin D, light ( 27 ) helps with sleep for this reason alone, as vitamin D deficiency is associated with depression ( 28 ) and sleep disorders, among other things.

But you shouldn’t wear dark sunglasses when you’re out in the sun, as the light sensors cannot perceive the bright light at all and signal to the brain that you are apparently in a cave-like environment.

So-called full-spectrum or daylight lamps that imitate sunlight should be used in offices ( 29 ).

Avoid light in the evening

Exactly the opposite applies in the evening: that is when you have to avoid light wherever possible. The less you expose yourself to artificial light sources in the evening, the more reliably you can increase your melatonin levels ( 30 ) ( 31 ).

A March 2011 study of 116 volunteers ( 32 ) found that exposure to a 200 lux light source in the hours before bed reduced 99 percent of the participants’ sleep hormone levels significantly.

200 lux is really not much. There is around 500 lux in an illuminated office, and 100,000 lux on a bright summer’s day. 100 lux is specified as weak corridor lighting. Candlelight (1 meter away), on the other hand, only brings 1 lux.

With candlelight there were no negative effects on the melatonin level.

The researchers involved wrote that exposure to electric lights until late in the evening can lead to sleep disturbances due to low melatonin levels. Since the sleep hormone is also involved in regulating blood pressure and blood sugar, disorders can also occur in these areas.

Moreover, light does not only mean normal room lighting, but also screens in particular, which have a particularly negative effect on the hormone and prevent its level from increasing.

Switch off the TV, computer, tablet and smartphone in the evening

A 2011 study of 21 college students found that computer light had a very negative effect on melatonin ( 33 ). The subjects’ levels were measured at 11:00 p.m. – before computer work – again at midnight and at 1:00 a.m. while they were sitting and working at the computer. The students’ melatonin levels were significantly lower than those of the control group (students who wore dark glasses when working on the computer).

Reading e-books can also affect the quality of sleep. Scientists from Harvard University found this out. They studied 12 young adults who read either a book or an e-book up to 4 hours before bedtime over a period of 14 days. Regular blood tests showed a decreased melatonin level in the subjects who read the book via an e-book reader, while the level did not change in the participants who read a classic book (34).

In particular, the blue component in screen light interferes with the formation of melatonin ( 35 ) ( 36 ) ( 37 ) ( 38 ) ( 39 ) ( 40 ). Blue light is not only found in screens, but also in the light from LED and energy-saving lamps. However, there are free programs (e.g. f.lux ) available online that automatically filter out the blue component on screens with decreasing sunlight – which is particularly interesting for people who have to work on the PC a lot in the evening or even at night. There are now special computer screens with a built-in blue light filter.

Light sources should be avoided even more at night than before going to bed:

Cancer cells don’t like darkness

If you want to successfully increase your melatonin, it is best to sleep in absolute darkness and not turn on any bright lights when you wake up at night. A strongly dimmed bedside light is fine for this, or a weakly adjusted flashlight. Otherwise, in the middle of the night, your body could get the idea to stop melatonin production prematurely, since it is obviously the brightest day. If street lamps, garden lights from the neighbors or the moon shines into your bedroom, make sure that the curtains or blinds are tight.

Studies showing how high melatonin levels at night can inhibit the growth of cancer cells show how important sleeping in absolute darkness is in terms of cancer prevention. Of course, if you have cancer, it’s even more important to keep your bedroom dark.

US cancer researchers Steven Hill and David Blask studied the effects of light and darkness at Tulane University in New Orleans. It was found that cancer cells grow faster the lighter the person concerned sleeps ( 43 ). He doesn’t even have to sit at the computer in full light at night. Apparently, a street lamp is enough to bathe the bedroom in twilight or light that falls through the crack in the door. Even then, cancer cells feel motivated and grow faster than in patients who sleep in total darkness.

Melatonin allows cancer cells to sleep

“High melatonin levels make breast cancer cells dormant by shutting down growth mechanisms,” Blask said in the study, published July 25, 2014 in Cancer Research. The breast cancer cells kind of wake up and the tamoxifen becomes ineffective.”

The researchers divided the rats with cancer into four groups. Two groups slept in total darkness, the other two groups in twilight. One group each also received a cancer drug.

At least two interesting results could be observed:

  1. First, the cancer in the dim light rats grew 2.6 times faster than in the eclipse rats. Melatonin levels remained low in the twilight rats, as if they lived permanently in daylight – even though they did not sleep in full light, but only in a very dim light. Even a very weak light source blocks melatonin formation. The lack of melatonin in turn activates cancer growth.
  2. Second, the anti-cancer drug was not just slightly ineffective in the dim light rats, it was completely ineffective. Despite medication, the cancer continued to grow unchecked. So light at night makes cancer cells immune to the cancer drug (tamoxifen in this case).

If the twilight rats were given melatonin injections, the cancer drug would work again. Melatonin, therefore, makes the cancer cells vulnerable and seems to switch off their growth mechanisms.

Dim light at night increases risk of bone metastases

Another study, presented at the Endocrine Society ‘s annual convention in 2019, confirms the value of sleeping in total darkness. This study showed that nocturnal twilight can cause breast cancer to spread to the bones, increasing the risk of bone metastases ( 45 ).

Also in 2019, neuroscientists found that white light at night (the kind of light commonly used in hospital rooms) increases inflammation, accelerates brain cell death, and is associated with a higher risk of death in heart patients  (44). So go to bed early in the evening and make sure your bedroom is as dark as possible.

Avoid light smog

Living in the day and night rhythm of nature is therefore of enormous importance for health. The widespread so-called light smog of brightly lit cities or the nocturnal day-bright illumination of some houses or gardens is therefore not only extremely harmful to animals, but also to people. So simply switch off the light at night, even outside in the garden!

The Swedish University of Gothenburg published a study in April 2017 ( 41 ) which found that patients in the hospital recovered much more quickly if they made sure that the lighting in the rooms matched the natural light during the day and the Patients could sleep in the dark at night (it is often brighter at night than during the day, especially in intensive care units).

Foods that increase melatonin

Since melatonin, in contrast to serotonin, can pass through the brain, i.e. it can pass the blood-brain barrier, its level in the brain can also be increased a little with foods containing melatonin, so that you can put together your dinner accordingly.

In order to be able to estimate how much melatonin must be contained in food so that an effect can be expected from it, one looks at how much of the sleep hormone a person forms during the night. That’s 10 to 80 µg.

In comparison, many foods contain only uninteresting traces of the sleep hormone. Measurable melatonin levels, on the other hand, are e.g. in tomatoes (11 µg/100g) and strawberries (1 µg/100 g). In barley, rice and walnuts it is only 0.1 mcg/100 g ( 42 ). Despite the seemingly small amounts, research has shown that eating these foods increases melatonin levels.

Further research showed that the more vegetables on a person’s menu, the higher the level. Here, however, one is not sure whether it is the melatonin content of the vegetables that increases the level or whether it is rather the high content of vital substances in such a diet and the fact that such a diet often lacks harmful components (sugar, food additives, sweeteners etc.), which leads to an overall healthy balance of ALL bodily functions.

Vital substances that increase melatonin

A good omega-3 supply is also important. The pineal gland naturally contains high amounts of omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids, particularly arachidonic acid and DHA. No wonder an omega-3 deficiency leads to reduced melatonin levels at night, while supplementation with DHA brings them back to normal.

People today tend to be oversupplied with arachidonic acid (found in abundance in animal foods) or other omega-6 fatty acids. Anyone who lives vegan and fears an arachidonic acid deficiency, be reassured. The organism also produces the required arachidonic acid from plant-based linoleic acid, which is found in abundance in most nuts, seeds and plant-based oils.

Take melatonin as a dietary supplement

Melatonin has long been used in the US as a rejuvenating and sleep-inducing anti-cancer supplement and is available over the counter in any supermarket.

Melatonin is available as a prescription drug and over the counter mostly for a specific medical purpose – officially only to combat jet lag and when you are on has trouble falling asleep.

Incidentally, the hormone is particularly effective against the symptoms of jet lag when traveling east and crossing several time zones.

Unofficially, melatonin is said to have many helpful effects. In addition to the complaints already mentioned above, the health problems that the hormone can help with also include glaucoma, irritable bowel syndrome and some types of cancer. It can often be used alongside conventional therapy, enhancing its desired effect or alleviating side effects (e.g. with chemotherapy). Side effects have rarely been observed for melatonin itself.

Proper dosage of melatonin

How to properly dose melatonin to expect an effect? If you buy a dietary supplement with the sleep hormone, then the best thing to do when it comes to dosage is the recommended intake that is noted on the product. These vary between 0.5 and 5 mg – depending on the preparation and the area of ​​application.

The effect also depends on your original baseline. If it is very low, you need a higher dose, if your deficiency is not so severe, a small dose may help. Therefore, start with a small dose and then try a higher one – if there is still no effect.

However, we are more concerned with the holistic measures that help to naturally increase melatonin. If you would like to take the hormone as a dietary supplement, as an adjunctive therapy to conventional medical therapies or as a sleeping pill, we recommend that you consult your doctor or alternative practitioner – also because there may be interactions with some medications, e.g. with antidepressants, sleeping pills, cortisone preparations, etc

Melatonin is generally taken in the evening just before bedtime, as it makes you tired. In combination with vitamin C (e.g. acerola cherry ), the melatonin effect will unfold particularly well.

 

Obviously, if you do not absorb all the necessary substances properly because your digestive system is compromised then you need to clean your digestive system and make sure it is working to its optimum to get the best results for your sleep.