Melatonin is a hormone produced by the pineal gland. The gland is the size of a pea and found just above the middle of your brain. One of the jobs of the pineal gland is to help your body to know when it is time to sleep and wake up.
Melatonin a hormone secreted by the pineal gland which inhibits melanin formation and is thought to be responsible for regulating the reproductive cycle. Interesting isn’t it?
When do we produce Melatonin?
Melatonin helps control your sleep and wake cycles. A key factor in how your sleep is regulated is exposure to light or darkness. Your body produces melatonin at night. Exposure to light stimulates a nerve pathway from the retina in the eye to an area in the brain called the hypothalamus. Levels tend to rise in the evening usually when the sun sets, which is then released into the blood. The levels in the blood stay elevated for about 12 hours, so really all through the night. When the sun rises in the early hours of the morning the levels of production drop. Your body sets the amount of the hormone it produces according to your own body clock and the amount of light you are exposed to during the day.
Melatonin and sleep!
Melatonin quite often is referred to as the “Dracula of hormones” as it only shows up in the dark. The pineal gland will not produce the hormone unless you are in a dimly lit or even better dark environment. Sunlight and artificial indoor lighting prevents the release of melatonin and stops us from a restful sleep.
Behaviour Changes and Mood Disorders!
Decreased nocturnal melatonin levels in people suffering from depression and panic disorders. Not surprising really that the SAD Syndrome (Seasonal Affective Disorder) is linked to be causing melatonin secretion to be both elevated and decreased at inappropriate times which of course leads to sleepless nights and exhaustion during the day. Light therapy has been used as a very effective treatment in people with SAD.
Foods containing natural sources of Melatonin!
- nuts (walnuts/peanuts)
- seeds (sunflower seeds/mustard seeds/flax-seed/sesame seeds)
- dark leafy greens
There are many Melatonin supplements out there and although I am always in favour for natural sources of everything, but sometimes you need a boost. But be aware. Most supplements out there are not vegan and contain parts of the pineal gland of animals. And many contain Soya and other ingredients I would not want in my body. So beware!