Why Is Melatonin Important For Sleep?
Author: Caren Wigmore ND
Melatonin is a hormone secreted by our pineal gland which plays a role in your natural sleep-wake cycle. The production of this important hormone is affected by light/dark cycles as well as cortisol. Light can either suppress or synchronize melatonin production depending on our exposure. Melatonin should be at its highest level at night 4 hrs after sunset but as it is effected by any blue light emitting devices (smart phones, computers, iPads) which negatively impact it’s production – essentially these devices can disrupt our circadian rhythm.
There is an excited buzz for those over 55 who can now get melatonin without a prescription on consultation with a pharmacist as of June 2021. The real question however is not “can I get my hands on melatonin” but is low melatonin the cause of your insomnia?
There are many contributing factors to poor sleep, and it is important to identify the drivers if you suffer from insomnia. Firstly, identifying if its sleep onset insomnia vs sleep maintenance insomnia can give some clues. Sleep onset requires looking at our habits and stress levels: do you go to sleep at a regular time to support your natural circadian rhythm? Are you avoiding using screens (even if you have a blue screen filter) as the interaction of a device/ working on computers activates a part of the brain that stimulates us and makes us alert and keeps us awake. Are you exercising late at night? For some people they do better to exercise in the morning as night exercise can stimulate cortisol production which suppresses melatonin production.
As we age melatonin production gradually declines which is why it is so common for our elderly population to struggle with disrupted sleep: in some cases, simply supporting the body with nutrients needed for melatonin production can be enough to ensure a deep restful sleep. Perhaps its sleep maintenance you are struggling with? Hormones, stress, and liver function can be the culprits here.
Is Lack Of Melatonin The Cause Of Your Insomnia?
I like to test midnight melatonin for my patients suffering from insomnia – firstly it tells me if melatonin is even an issue: it is possible to have adequate levels and still not be able to sleep well. Once we have tested midnight melatonin if it is low, I like to know why: are you using screens late into the night? Are you stressed resulting in latent high cortisol levels suppressing your melatonin production or are your hormones (mainly progesterone which also plays a role in our sleep-wake cycle) out of sync. Simply using melatonin is just the tip of the iceberg and often does not work if low melatonin’s not your problem. I use a combination of herbs, nutrients and amino acids to support sleep production and its never the same for everyone.
If you are having problems sleeping I’d love to help you get to the bottom of it. Deep restful sleep is vital to physical and mental health and wellbeing. Disrupted sleep negative impacts our immune system, antioxidant defences and glucose regulation: hence poor sleepers can often find they start to gain weight. Even diseases such as cancer have been linked to low melatonin levels: so don’t ignore poor sleep: book your appointment today so that we can help you get to the bottom of what is disrupting your restorative and regenerative moment in your 24hrs.