Produced by the pineal gland in the vertebrate brain, Melatonin is a hormone that regulates sleep cycles in humans and animals. As the night progresses, production of melatonin increases, and again decreases with the onset of dawn, thereby, controlling sleep.
Melatonin is available as supplements for those suffering from sleep disorders and is also present in some foods.
When was it discovered?
Melatonin was discovered by Aaron B. Lerner, a professor of dermatology and some of his colleagues at the Yale University in 1958. Their primary objective was to find a compound in the pineal gland that can be used to treat skin diseases. They used cows as their test subjects for finding the hormone.
What are the functions of melatonin?
The primary function of melatonin is to maintain circadian rhythms among humans and animals. These rhythms handled by the circadian clock synchronize the daily activities of a body with solar time.
This circadian clock is located in suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN), a special region in the brain’s hypothalamus. The SCN maintains a regular cycle in the body based on the solar time.
Now, depending on the time, the SCN communicates with the pineal gland. The pineal gland becomes active during nighttime and releases melatonin for inducing sleep. During daytime, the pineal gland remains inactive.
Artificial light can also hamper the release of melatonin for which some individuals find it hard to sleep in such conditions.
In addition to the above, some other functions of melatonin include regulation of fat cells, working as an antioxidant, and delivering protection against acute pancreatitis and neurodegenerative diseases.
What are the uses of melatonin as a supplement?
Various studies and research works have found the usage of melatonin in the following cases:
Several studies have found that melatonin may improve the onset and total amount of sleep among individuals who have insomnia. However, for the elderly, melatonin can have considerable impact for improving sleep.
- Shift work
Melatonin may help reset the sleep-wake cycles of those who have unconventional working hours.
- Delayed Sleep Phase Disorder (DSPD)
The hormone has shown promising results for those suffering from Delayed Sleep Phase Disorder (DSPD). Individuals with this problem have irregular sleep-wake patterns – they fall asleep and wake up at abnormal hours.
- Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)
Those suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) go through depression during the same time every year. Research has found that melatonin can largely help people suffering from SAD.
- Jet lag
One of the prime uses of melatonin is for jet lag. It helps regulate sleep cycles of those who undergo prolonged air travels. You can buy melatonin for jet lag, but stick to the manufacturers recommended dose for jet lag.
- Other uses
Some other uses of melatonin are as follows:
- Studies conducted have shown that melatonin may have an impact on those suffering from heartburn and epigastric pain.
- Melatonin may improve sleep amongst children suffering from autism.
- It can also protect against cellular damage caused by radiation.
- Some researches show that melatonin can help eliminate hypnic and cluster headaches.
- Melatonin can also restrict the development of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS).
- Controlled-release of melatonin can help those suffering from high blood pressure.
As a supplement, melatonin has shown a favourable impact on various sleep disorders among humans. This hormone is also found in plants for eliminating oxidative stress. So, if one is suffering from sleep related issues, one can consume melatonin supplements to naturally bring back their sleep-wake cycle.