If you’re one of the many people who struggle to get a good night’s sleep, you’ll probably be aware of melatonin, a naturally produced hormone that our internal clock uses to tell us it’s bedtime. Although there are many reasons why our sleep gets disrupted such as stress, anxiety, caffeine and alcohol use and sleep disorders, melatonin plays a pivotal role in deciding whether we’re tired or wired.
Known as circadian rhythm, a biological clock is present in almost all living things from animals and plants to bacteria and fungi. Ours lives in a brain structure called the suprachiasmatic nucleus and keeps us operating to a 24-hour cycle. To keep itself accurate it calibrates by adjusting to various factors like the amount of sunlight entering our eyes, the times we eat and exercise and even our social interactions.
Our internal clock is what keeps us ticking. Its roles include waking us up in the morning, regulating our metabolic system and hormonal balance, and telling us when to go to sleep. And the messenger it uses to give these orders is the hormone melatonin, which we produce naturally in our pineal gland.
You party animals out there pulling all-nighters might understandably have messed up biorhythms but it’s not just boozing that stops you snoozing – there are many less fun reasons why our melatonin levels might be out of sync. Having irregular wake-up times or bedtimes, changing time zones, doing shift work, lack of sunlight during the daytime, looking at screens in the evening and fluctuations in body temperature can all send our body clock into disarray and disrupt our sleep. Melatonin levels also go down naturally as we get older, leading to some of the sleep problems suffered by older people.
Whatever the reason, melatonin disruption sustained over a long time can raise the risk of developing cancer and heart disease. For example women who work night shifts have higher rates of breast cancer due to the disruption the bright lights have on their hormone levels.
There are also positive benefits to restoring melatonin levels. As well as preventing cancer, mighty melatonin eases anxiety and depression, helps manage PMS and chronic pain, lowers blood pressure, improves memory retention and supports immune function. So that’s many reasons to want to restore the balance.
So how might we address the imbalance? Addressing our lifestyle choices can help some of us improve our sleep. But for those who can’t, it’s also possible to restore our melatonin levels through food or supplements. Bananas, radishes, ginger, tomatoes, pineapples, oats, barley and rice all contain a chemical called L-tryptophan, which our bodies convert firstly into 5-HTP then into melatonin.
But don’t be sour if cherries aren’t your thing. High-quality supplements such as Protea Wellness’ Night Sense combine all the goodness from Montmorency cherries with other natural ingredients containing L-tryptophan and 5-HTP to give a blend of melatonin and extra sleep supporting ingredients to keep your nights restful.