The many faces of melatonin – Part 2

Melatonin 101

Melatonin is a hormone produced in the pineal gland. During the day your body has very little melatonin circulating in your bloodstream. Melatonin production increases when the sun goes down, signaling the body that it is time to go to sleep. Melatonin levels then continue to rise throughout the late evening and into the night, reaching a peak between 2 and 4 am.
Light plays a key role in the production of melatonin and the regulation of the sleep wake cycle. Melatonin secretion is driven predominantly by the amount of light reaching the eyes. The optimal melatonin production that leads to a good night’s sleep requires a balance of daylight and dark exposure. Insomnia, for example, can be caused by an insufficient exposure to bright daylight can increase melatonin secretion enough to regulate the sleep wake cycle in people who are having difficulty sleeping.
Light can also interrupt melatonin production. A brief pulse of bright light, or a series of pulses over a long enough period of time can abruptly stop melatonin production during the night. For instance, if you are asleep in a dark room and someone opens the door, leaving the hall light shining brightly into the room, your melatonin production can stop, causing your melatonin level to drop quickly. This in turn can awaken you, and make it difficult for you to fall back to sleep.
Melatonin production varies with age. Generally, at ages 1 to 3, melatonin levels are very high. Young adults have slightly lower levels. Then, as we reach midlife and beyond melatonin production begins to dwindle. However, new studies reveal that this may not always be true. We now know that even children can have low levels of melatonin and elders who are exposed to enough daylight can have nearly optimal levels. Studies have shown that children, adults, and elders can all benefit from melatonin supplementation if they need it, enabling them to fall asleep more quickly, sleep longer, and feel better the next day, experiencing less fatigue and more alertness.

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