In our last article we discussed the health benefits of this hugely important nocturnal hormone, including immune modulation, weight maintenance and hormone regulation. If anyone missed this article then you can find it under an earlier post called ‘Melatonin – more than just a sleep hormone’. Right now though lets look at the potential far reaching consequences of imbalanced melatonin how we can help keep this vital hormone at peak levels.
There has been increased interested in the health benefits of melatonin in recent years so we may well not yet understand all its benefits, however inappropriate levels of melatonin is believed to be linked to the following health issues:
Behaviour Changes and Mood Disorders
Studies have reported decreased nocturnal melatonin levels in patients suffering from depression and panic disorders. Interestingly in Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) melatonin secretion tends to be both elevated and decreased at inappropriate times leading to sleepless nights and exhaustion during the day. Since full spectrum light reduces the rate of melatonin secretion, light therapy can be very effective in treating patients with SAD.
Melatonin has not only been shown to induce sleep, but also to increase sleep duration. It is also effective in reducing the symptoms of jet lag. This is because melatonin enhances REM and slow-wave sleep patterns.
This may stem from melatonin’s effects the immune response as well as its powerful oestrogen-blocking ability. Melatonin demonstrates particular promise in the treatment of breast cancer.
A decrease in melatonin causes increased night time sympathetic nervous system activity, which appears to increase risk for coronary disease. Lower levels of melatonin may increase circulating adrenalin and noradrenalin, which have been implicated in damage to blood vessel walls.
Causes of Melatonin Deficiency
The main causes of melatonin deficiency are a lack of sleep or anything that disrupts sleep e.g. shift work, late nights, jet lag, alcohol, caffeine, blood sugar imbalances, stress, exposure to light (particularly blue light), electromagnetic waves and age (some older adults produce no melatonin at all).
Whilst melatonin deficiency appears to have far reaching consequences the side effects of melatonin excess are only currently believed to be associated with melatonin excess during the day. Symptoms are thought to include:
- Tiredness during the day
- Social withdrawal
The easiest way to increase melatonin levels is to get enough sleep! However this is not as easy as it sounds for some individuals. The keys to a good nights sleep, however are also the keys to boosting melatonin levels so try the following to naturally boost melatonin at night:
- Melatonin production is increased by darkness so use black out curtains or blinds in your bedroom.
- Artificial light and electromagnetic radiation in the bedroom should be minimized and therefore TVs, mobile phones and bright alarm clocks should be banished.
- If you need the loo during the night use as little light as possible to get you there –a bright light will halt melatonin production and it will take time to increase again. Use a very small flashlight and keep it facing the floor, alternatively open the curtains very slightly to let in enough light to guide the way.
- Avoid foods or drinks before bedtime that will induce stress hormone production or cause blood sugar imbalances during the night e.g. heavy meals, sugar, caffeine, alcohol (except a little red wine).
- Daytime exercise and light exposure will promote a regular circadian rhythm of melatonin and help ensure higher levels at night time.
Some foods naturally contain melatonin and are therefore great to have at an evening meal or as a light night time snack:
- Morello cherries
- Porridge oats
- Sweet corn
- Red wine
Foods that contain tryptophan can also be eaten in the evening as these help induce production of serotonin, which is required to make melatonin:
- Dairy products (avoid cheese though)
- Turkey and chicken
- Whole grains
- Beans and pulses
- Sesame seeds
- Sunflower seeds
Some micronutrients are also important in the production of melatonin, including:
- Vitamin B-6 (Pyridoxal-5-Phosphate)
- Folic acid