What is melatonin? And why it is essential for good health

What is it?

Melatonin is a hormone that is essential for falling asleep and having a good night’s sleep. Muscle mass repair, cells, tissue and growth all require sufficient levels. A powerful antioxidant, it plays an important role in immune function. Involved in reversing ageing, fighting diseases such as cancer, heart disease and maintaining sexual vitality. Depression, type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome and obesity are associated with low melatonin levels. It has also been used to treat insomnia, gastrin and reduce stomach ulcers.

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How we produce it.

The pineal gland in the brain is the major source of melatonin production, although it occurs in tissues throughout the body. Serotonin is a precursor to Melatonin, a neurotransmitter derived from tryptophan (found in poultry, cheese and eggs). Exposure to light suppresses its production. This isn’t a problem when we rise with the sun and prepare for bed with the sunset. However with the high use of artificial light from screens (tv, computer, phone) our pineal gland struggles to tell the difference between night and day. Specifically it is the exposure of blue light from devices that reduce melatonin production at night. One study showed that one hour of moderately bright light exposure was sufficient to suppress nighttime levels to their daytime levels.

It’s role in the gut.

The gastrointestinal system utilises melatonin in the regulation of multiple functions. The gut contains at least 400 times more melatonin than the pineal gland. The melatonin receptors found in the gut are involved in the regulation of GI motility, inflammation and pain. Scientists are currently finding significant connections between quality of sleep and the gut micro biome. This relationship can influence mood, stress, pain and hormones.

How to boost your levels

  • Install f.lux on your computer screen – it reduces blue light on your screen in the evening
  • Opt for ‘Night shift’ mode on your mobile phone
  • Turn off screens and dim lights at least an hour before getting into bed
  • Reduce your stress levels – spend 15mins before bed concentrating on your breathing and clearing your mind, meditation has been shown to boost melatonin levels
  • Wake up with the sun and have as much exposure to natural light as possible throughout the day
  • Consume foods high in tryptophan, it is a precursor to melatonin
  • Make your bedroom as dark as possible during sleeping hours – this includes removing electronics from the room

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This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to this super hormone. It’s a topic I’ll explore more of over the coming months and also expand upon in my book.

You can order your copy of A Life Less Stressed here