Although not considered an essential nutrient, melatonin is an essential hormone in the body.
Often called " sleep hormone ", it takes its nickname from its activity on falling asleep and its role in the regulation of circadian cycles.
Melatonin also has other lesser-known effects. It is also a powerful antioxidant and acts on the immune system.
In this article, we will take a closer look at the benefits of melatonin for the body, in particular on sleep, as well as the conditions for using melatonin supplements with the recommended dosages.
What is melatonin or the sleep hormone?
Melatonin is a hormone that our brain produces naturally in response to darkness!
It therefore plays an important role in the regulation of sleep and circadian rhythms (biological rhythm in the form of a 24-hour cycle), as well as in other biological processes in the body.
Like all hormones, it is produced by the body and acts in small quantities on target functions.
In our body, melatonin is produced in the epiphysis (or pineal gland) from a specific amino acid: tryptophan.
Its secretion follows hour by hour the natural cycle of our internal clock and the luminosity to which we are exposed.
Therefore, the production of melatonin very directly regulates the body's sleep-wake cycle , according to the model below:
The benefits of melatonin on sleep, jet-lag and irregular life rhythms
One of the best-known and most-studied benefits of melatonin is its role in regulating sleep.
By regulating the body's circadian rhythms, melatonin helps synchronize sleep cycles with the natural day-night cycle.
Melatonin acts on the regulation of sleep cycles by triggering sleep onset mechanisms in the body.
This makes it easier to fall asleep, improves sleep quality and reduces insomnia disorders.
Melatonin has quite logically found a very popular application among frequent travelers to reduce the symptoms of jet lag.
An external supply of melatonin makes it possible to trigger sleep in phase with the natural cycle of the country of destination, which obviously helps to readjust faster and more easily.
People with irregular working hours also use it for the same reasons.
What other effects does melatonin have on the body?
As a hormone, melatonin has many recognized health benefits.
Melatonin has an impact on sleep, but also on three other important functions:
- Less oxidative stress
- Immune system
- The nervous system
The anti-aging effect of melatonin
Melatonin is also a powerful antioxidant that helps protect body cells from damage caused by free radicals.
Like other antioxidants, melatonin helps reduce the effects of oxidative stress to reduce the risk of age-related diseases, such as cardiovascular and neurodegenerative diseases.
Melatonin acts on the immune system
- The production of certain immune cells (precursors of granulocytes macrophages)
- The production of certain cytokines, which promote the multiplication of killer cells NK (Natural Killer), leukocytes that destroy cells foreign to the body.
Melatonin therefore has an impact on strengthening the immune system and protecting against infectious diseases.
Melatonin and the nervous system
Melatonin also has a neuroprotective role at the prenatal stage, highlighted by the work of INSERM.
This property is still the subject of studies which are in progress.
Factors that decrease or disrupt melatonin production
Several factors can cause a decrease in melatonin production.
But the main ones are exposure to light and age.
Light and screens inhibit the production of melatonin
Light inhibits the production of melatonin .
As explained earlier, melatonin is produced by the pineal gland in the brain based on circadian rhythm and exposure to darkness.
Natural or artificial light will therefore reduce the production of melatonin.
Exposure to blue light emitted by television , computer and mobile phone screens is doubly harmful:
- It prevents the production of melatonin which would allow the body to rest,
- It increases nervous and visual fatigue.
This is why it is recommended to avoid screens before bedtime and to prefer reading (without a tablet!): a book does not emit blue light.
Melatonin production decreases with age
Melatonin production decreases with age.
The pineal gland, which naturally produces melatonin in the brain, tends to calcify and shrink in size with age. This gradually leads to a decrease in the production of melatonin.
This decrease in melatonin production may explain why older people often have sleep problems and circadian rhythm disorders.
It is important to note that decreasing melatonin production is not inevitable with age and there are ways to stimulate melatonin production, such as:
- Exposure to natural light during the day
- Total darkness at night
- The use of melatonin supplements.
Melatonin in food supplements
Melatonin is available in the form of a food supplement with a maximum daily dosage of 1.9 mg (France and EU).
In dietary supplements, melatonin is used to fight insomnia and other sleep disorders.
Its use can also be recommended to reduce the symptoms of jet lag or disrupted schedules.
When should I take melatonin as a supplement?
The use of melatonin is recommended in different situations.
This will be particularly the case, when the rhythm and the style of life decrease the natural production of melatonin.
Eventually, this can disrupt sleep and fatigue will accumulate day after day.
In this case, taking a supplementation of Melatonin can be useful to break this vicious circle and rest the body.
Which form of melatonin to choose? Spray, capsule or tablet
Prefer liquid forms!
To promote sleep, the fastest release of the greatest amount of Melatonin is preferable.
The Spray in the mouth allows this quick release and the effect in less than 30 minutes.
The capsules require time for their own dissolution in the stomach (about 20 minutes longer) and are effective on an empty stomach (otherwise absorption is even slower), which is rarely the case at bedtime.
Slow-release tablets are less effective for falling asleep but may release melatonin longer during sleep.
What dosage of melatonin should be favored for effectiveness on sleep?
The maximum allowable daily dose for melatonin dietary supplements is 1.9 mg, which is very sufficient for the desired effect.
If the effects decrease by habituation it is a sign to take a break in the cure, taking melatonin on a regular basis in the long term is not recommended.
The essential precautions for use of melatonin as a supplement.
Before using melatonin supplements, it is recommended to consult a health professional to discuss the risks and benefits of their use and especially to accompany the cure with other preventions allowing then to do without it!
Melatonin is effective in restoring a normal circadian rhythm, by accompanying the taking of correct hygiene vis-à-vis light and screens.
Drowsiness or decreased alertness are possible within 12 hours of taking it, which is why melatonin is not recommended for people who need to be extra careful during this time (machine operators, etc.).
Taking is also not recommended for children: no screens before falling asleep is a much better method. It is certainly not easy, but the effort is worth it!