Melatonin is the hormone that is released by the pineal gland in the brain in response to darkness. This hormone is what tells your brain it is time to start getting sleepy. It Helps regulate other hormones in the body and works to maintain the body’s circadian rhythm. Circadian rhythm is the internal clock that regulates the 24 hour day cycle. Once it becomes dark outside the body will begin to produce more melatonin.
With the invention of the light bulb and particularly florescent lighting that is so bright the natural day and night cycle has been thrown into hormonal confusion. Being exposed to bright lights during the nighttime or to little light during the daytime can greatly effect the body’s melatonin production. Sometimes our modern inventions can lead to unforeseen changes within the body. Then there is the often unnatural work schedules and travel that people are forced to maintain. These factors have lead to levels of melatonin and other natural hormones being much to low to trigger sound sleep.
Much of the research on melatonin has been done on its relation to aging. Young children generally have the highest levels of nighttime melatonin and senior citizens generally have the lowest levels. Many researchers believe that this lower melatonin level is the main reason why so many older adults have sleep problems. There is also a school of thought that says if we add melatonin and other hormones back into out systems through supplementation we can slow down the aging process. Therefore melatonin is often an integral part of any life extension hormonal replacement therapy program.
With the power to change night into day and day into night, and with the crazy work and travel schedules that many people are required to maintain is it really any wonder that our hormonal rhythms are thrown out of whack? No wonder why so many people have such trouble sleeping. The good news is that melatonin is virtually side effect free. I have seen doctors prescribing it to children as young as 4 years old. The key to effective use of this natural sleep aid is to find the right dosage for yourself.
Melatonin is a truly natural hormone that many people are deficient in. In many cases by supplementing with melatonin we are effectively adding back a vital nutrient that we may be lacking. As far as natural sleep aids go it is probably the first one to try. For many people it works well by itself, but for others it works better when combined with other supporting natural sleeping aids such as valerian and hops.