Melatonin - your most important hormone?

"It will take longer for you to fall asleep, you’ll have less REM sleep (the sleep where dreams occur), and you’ll wake up feeling unrested and sleepier - even after 8 hours of sleep! You’re basically giving yourself a mini-jetlag!"

Melatonin - The hormone not only responsible for your sleep but also suggested to be the most important antioxidant and cancer-fighting molecule in your body. Let’s dig into this knowledge a little more!

Firstly, what is melatonin? Melatonin is known as the sleep-hormone and is produced in the pineal gland in the brain. It is thought to have a regulating effect on several functions in the body, including the circadian rhythm (your sleep-wake cycle). The production of melatonin is induced in darkness while minimized in light. Melatonin is the hormone that helps the body to fall asleep. In a normal sleeping pattern melatonin levels start to rise in the body about 14 to 16 hours after awakening, which would be about 9pm-10pm right before bedtime. The highest value of melatonin levels are usually measured in the middle of the night, while the lowest usually are measured during daytime as illustrated on the graph below: 

Source: ChemWiki 

What role does it play in the body? Not only is melatonin important for a good night's sleep. Melatonin also has immune-system functions and has very powerful antioxidant status. It functions as a anti-aging molecule, that will leave the skin younger and it cleans up free radicals that are created as a byproduct from cell mitosis. Cell mitosis is cell division that happens at night, when cells in the body needs to be repaired and replaced. In this process free radicals are made and you don’t want these to float around in your body. Free radicals attack healthy cells and it is universally agreed, that they are a major factor in cancer. The body’s best defense against free radicals is melatonin, which as mentioned earlier, mops them up - which is great! 

How is the production of melatonin affected? Melatonin is made naturally in, and secreted from the pineal gland in the brain. The special thing about the pineal gland, is that it’s light-sensitive. This means that it senses the light around us. When it's dark, your brain then sends a signal for your body that it's time for bed at melatonin is secreted throughout the blood in your body. On the opposite, during daytime, when it’s light, no melatonin is secreted and you stay awake and alert for the day. This production and secretion of melatonin happens naturally in the body in connection to the sunrise and sunset. 

What are the consequences if not enough melatonin is produced? The bad news is that, today we live in a world bathed in artificial blue light. Everywhere you go, you are impacted by blue light. Whether the light is coming from your digital device like computers, smartphones or TV or coming from streetlights or the LED’s lighting up your office. This blue light can be harmful. It’s especially problematic, when you’re using these electronic devices in the evening. And who doesn't scroll down their Instagram feed right before bed or check the last emails? Almost all of us are now used to look into some kind of digital screen before bedtime. Sadly, we are getting more and more out of sync with the sun’s rising and setting and we’re thereby messing up our circadian rhythm. 

The problem is, that the blue light that’s emitting from the digital screens can delay the secretion of melatonin, which will make you more awake and reset your inner bodyclock to a later schedule. It will take longer for you to fall asleep, you’ll have less REM sleep (the sleep where dreams occur), and you’ll wake up feeling unrested and sleepier - even after 8 hours of sleep! You’re basically giving yourself a mini-jetlag! This is especially impacting teenagers, who are already shifting their circadian rhythm, causing them to feel more awake later at night. The results of this are sleep-deprived kids, which leads to several other health issues.

Overall, if melatonin levels in the body are low and you’re not producing enough, the consequences can be a weakening of the immune system, which makes it less competent against infection. This happens since melatonin in some cases also works as an antioxidant as mentioned briefly earlier. Other consequences can be a lot of sleep disturbance, heart complications, and much higher susceptibility to diseases such as cancer. Studies of night shift workers have shown, that the level of melatonin was reduced due to exposure to light in the middle of the night and this produced at 50% increase in breast cancer risk. Even the International Agency of Research on Cancer (IARC) has classified night shift work as a class 2A carcinogen due to the reduction of melatonin in the body.

It makes sense right? If the body only repairs its cells during the night in darkness, where melatonin mops up the free radicals from cell mitosis, this won't function optimally if blue light has interrupted the circadian rhythm. If the body thinks (because of exposure to blue light) that it's daytime during the night, it's awake. The body has then reduced capacity to repair and clear the free radicals that damage healthy cells. Over time, this would likely increase the risk of cancer. 

The good part is, that we’re here to help! You can protect yourself and keep your melatonin levels on point! There are several things that can be done. The easiest thing is to wear Blux after sunset or whenever you are in front of a digital screen for longer. They are blue light blocking glasses without prescription (also known as computerglasses) that blocks the harmful blue light from entering your eye and thereby disturbing your melatonin production. 

Even researches at the University of Toronto suggests wearing blue light blocking glasses at night. They compared the melatonin levels of people exposed to bright indoor light who were wearing blue light blocking glasses to people exposed to dim light without wearing the blue light blocking glasses. The levels of melatonin were about the same in the two groups, which strengthened their hypothesis that blue light is a potent suppressor of melatonin. The researches also suggested that night workers and night owls could perhaps protect themselves if they wore blue light blocking glasses, like Blux. 

Here are 4 things you could do to increase melatonin levels: 

 References: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2584099/