There are an increasing number of supplements that claim they’ll improve your sleep. But with supplement label claims still being free from regulation, how can you tell fact from marketing fiction? One of the best first steps when searching for a sleep-enhancing product is to go back to what the latest science says. And when it comes to evidence-based ingredients, none come close to the body of evidence backing the efficacy of melatonin. In this article, we’ll take a closer look at its role in the body, why its production can get disrupted, and why we included a specific dosage of melatonin in our Momentous Sleep product.
What is Melatonin, and What Does it Do?
Melatonin (full name N-acetyl-5-methoxytryptamine) is a hormonal derivative of the amino acid tryptophan, which often gets mentioned around Thanksgiving as turkey is one of its richest sources, and is believed to trigger the famed holiday afternoon nap. Your body naturally secretes melatonin daily from several places, but it’s the pineal gland located in the roof of the diencephalon in your brain that produces most of it. From the brain, melatonin is distributed throughout various systems.1
Once afternoon transitions into evening and the sun sets, the optic nerve sends a signal to the pineal gland to trigger the nightly release of melatonin. This hormone works to deliver the message, “Get ready for sleep,” and it is delivered to receptor cells.
These trigger a chemical cocktail that reduces levels of arousal-promoting hormones like cortisol, which elevate the amount of oxytocin (which can influence dreams and conscious social behaviors), prolactin (which helps regulate metabolism, immune function, and over 300 other processes in the body and brain), and growth hormone (which, as the name suggests, promotes hypertrophy and soft tissue repair). Once you actually fall asleep, the interplay between the hormones that regulate hunger (leptin) and satiety (ghrelin) are also modulated by the latter phase of the sleep-wake cycle that melatonin plays a crucial part in initiating.2
Why Can Disrupt Melatonin Production?
The process described above is what happened throughout 99 percent of human history. But with the invention of electricity, suddenly it was no longer left to sunlight and darkness to govern when humans awoke, slept, and produced. Artificial light became the main source of light in most homes, streets, and factories without any limitation on when what light source can be available.
Over one hundred years later, our bodies still haven’t adapted to the introduction of the lightbulb – or at least in positive ways that preserve a restful night’s sleep. Add in the demands placed on the modern athlete, including night games, late practices and lifting sessions, and the disruption wrought by time zone-crossing travel by plane, road, and rails, and you have a body that’s never quite sure when it should be alert and performing or relaxed and resting. Not to mention the fact that many of us are glued to our phones, tablets, laptops, and other devices at all hours of the day and night.
Such irregular and ill-timed external stimuli can have a profoundly disruptive impact on our internal physiology. If the optic nerve keeps receiving notifications that bright lights are present, it’s going to keep telling your brain to release stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline that prime every system in your body for physical movement and cognitive activity. As such, the pineal gland gets confused and isn’t really sure when it should release that burst of melatonin, so the receptors don’t get told to prepare your body for sleep in a natural timeframe. Hence the increasing incidence of insomnia, sleep apnea, excessive wakefulness, and other chronic sleep conditions that up to 70 million Americans are suffering from, and the resulting decline in performance, recovery, and overall well being.3
Can Supplemental Melatonin Improve My Sleep and Recovery?
Since artificial light isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, what can you do to better regulate your sleep-wake cycle? There are plenty of simple ways to game your internal chronobiology, including cutting out late afternoon and evening caffeine, limiting alcohol consumption, avoiding screen use within two hours of bedtime, and sleeping in a tech-free room that’s both cold and dark.
Before deciding to incorporate melatonin, we went to the scientific literature and found some compelling evidence. A study published in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism demonstrated that melatonin increases restorative REM sleep, and another trio of researchers noted that it decreases the incidence and duration of nighttime disturbances.5 Furthermore, a combination of magnesium and melatonin can help bring balance back to your sleep-wake cycle.6
If you’re worried that supplementing with melatonin might disrupt your body’s natural production of the hormone, you can put those fears to rest. Neuroscientist Dr. Allison Brager has been quick to quiet the misconception and firmly states, “supplementing with melatonin will not interfere with your body’s natural production of melatonin from your pineal gland. Some of this misconception likely comes from our understanding of how oral contraceptives (birth control) manipulate women’s production of estrogen and progesterone. Melatonin does not work in this way.” Melatonin is produced and released only in association with darkness, and there is no competition for receptor sites from your internally produced melatonin.
If you’ve already made all of the improvements to your sleep hygiene routine suggested above (and expanded upon by some of our Ambassadors in this post) and are still struggling to fall and stay asleep, are waking up feeling under-recovered, or just want to help ensure a better night’s slumber, give Momentous Sleep a try and see how supplemental melatonin starts to improve your recovery.
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1 – “Melatonin,” You and Your Hormones, available online at https://www.yourhormones.info/hormones/melatonin/.
2 – Jo Abbott, “Here's How Our Hormones Help Get Us to Sleep,” Science Alert, September 18, 2015, available online at https://www.sciencealert.com/chemical-messengers-how-hormones-help-us-sleep.
3 – HR Colten and BT Altevogt, eds, Sleep Disorders and Sleep Deprivation: An Unmet Public Health Problem (Washington, DC: National Academies Press, 2006), available online at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK19961/.
4 – M Zhang et al, “Inhibitory Effect of Jujuboside A on Glutamate-Mediated Excitatory Signal Pathway in
Hippocampus,” Planta Medica, August 2003, available online at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14531016; Mounir N. Ghabriel and Robert Vink, “Magnesium Transport Across the Blood-Brain Barriers,” University of Adelaide Press (2011).
5 – D Kunz et al, “Melatonin in Patients with Reduced REM Sleep Duration: Two Randomized Controlled Trials,” The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, January 2004, available online at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14715839?dopt=Abstract; L Palm, G Blennow, and L Wetterberg, “Long-Term Melatonin Treatment in Blind children and Young Adults with Circadian Sleep-Wake Disturbances,” Developmental Medicine and Child Neurology, May 1997, available online at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9236698?dopt=Abstract.
6 – JR Thorpe, “The Difference Between Melatonin & Magnesium, In Terms Of How Each Supplement Helps You Sleep,” Bustle, January 12, 2019, available online at https://www.bustle.com/p/the-difference-between-melatonin-magnesium-in-terms-of-how-each-supplement-helps-you-sleep-15644629.