What Is Melatonin and Why Is It so Important for a Healthy Life?

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Sleeping Baby - Flickr CC

Photo by Tamaki Sono | CC BY

Melatonin

Melatonin is a natural hormone produced by the pineal gland in the human brain. This hormone primarily helps the human body’s biological clock (a 24-hour clock that regulates the secretion of other hormones and several activities in the body) to synchronize and drive the circadian rhythm. As a powerful antioxidant, it also reacts strongly with the free radicals and inhibits oxidation. This mysterious hormone not only puts a human to sleep at the right time, but it also helps to lower the blood pressure and improves immunity in a human system. Let’s explore melatonin’s roles deeper to understand why it is a vital hormone for a healthy life.

The sleep cycle in darkness

Melatonin obviously plays a major role in the synchronization and optimization of the biological clock and the circadian rhythm. It is more like a detector or a sensor, telling the human that it is the right time for him/her to sleep. So when it is night and a human is ready to sleep in a dark room, the darkness is sensed by the brain (Suprachiasmatic nucleus senses the darkness and sends the signals to the hypothalamus) and it triggers the pineal gland to secrete melatonin. The presence of melatonin then lowers the body temperature and induces sleep. This aids in a good night’s sleep for about seven to eight hours.

Antioxidant properties

During the sleep process, the antioxidant property of the melatonin repairs our body cells and prevents them from being oxidized by the free radicals that are created by cell mitosis. So obviously, this antioxidant property of melatonin also acts as an anti-ageing aid to keep us youthful by reducing the amount of cell damage. This also suggests that a proper sleep cycle, with a deep sleep for about seven to eight hours in a dark room, will prevent most of the common oxidation related disorders and diseases like Alzheimer’s, cataracts, ulcers and cancer.

Dreaming

It is observed that melatonin helps in achieving a deep REM sleep, where dreams appear. Also, it is widely discussed that when external melatonin dosages are introduced, the REM sleep time increases and the dreams become more vivid and sometimes it is used for inducing lucid dreams too. But it is highly recommended and understood that high dosage of melatonin is undesirable.

How to increase and maintain melatonin levels?

The primary condition necessary for melatonin secretion is darkness. That being said, you need to sleep in a darker room. Blue and bright lights are known to suppress the secretion of melatonin. So it is advised not to use any electronic devices before you go to bed. As the biological clock in us senses the darkness at the right time after the natural light goes down, we should do our part to synchronize and provide the human body the right condition required—by turning off the artificial lights.

Diet is the next ultimate source for melatonin. As melatonin is produced from an amino acid called tryptophan, protein rich foods are most recommended.

While synthetic melatonin pills are available in the drug stores, we advise you to consider your physician before you take in any drugs. Noted cases of melatonin overdose have shown drastic results. The patients who took a dosage higher than the recommended one of melatonin for insomnia and other sleep disorders have experienced nightmares and migraines.

So, for a happy and healthy life, the point is made that you shouldn’t be a batman spending your night protecting your city, or a human working on your homework all night. The night is dark for many reasons and you just have learnt one of those awesome reasons. Go get a happy sleep in the darkness and gift your body some melatonin.

Explore more
How Temperature Affects Your Dreams
How to Be a High Dream Recaller

This post was first published on March 12, 2015.

Karthikeyan KC

Aeronautical Engineer, Science Fiction Author, Gamer and an Explorer. I am the creator of Geekswipe. I love writing about Physics and Astronomy. I am now creating Swyde.

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6 Responses

  1. Macy

    A very interesting and informative article. As a person who also writes a dream journal, I agree with you! Thank you for sharing.

  2. Cari Seth

    I’m getting rid of my night lamp today! Great information. Very informative.

  3. Nick

    You should mention about flux. It is a free app to reduce the amount of blue light from screens.

  4. Teja Swaresh

    It is surprising how blue light affects melatonin secretion. Considering the time we all spend before screens at nights, I am now thinking about this in an evolutionary scale.

  5. Philip

    You have done some extensive research. Unlike the pseudoscience garbage on the internet, your site has some good contents. Although, for a science article, you have missed the necessary citations. If I were you, I would work on that.