Opinion | A Deep Dive into a Human’s Sleep Journey

Humans, on average, spend close to a quarter of their life sleeping. Regarded as an essential part of our daily routine, sleep plays a vital role in the survival of human beings. In the early 1950s, sleep was usually perceived as a passive activity during which the body and brain remains dormant. But that wasn’t the case. Multiple studies done during the later years revealed that our brain is engaged in numerous activities that are essential for our life. Researchers far and wide have spent hours and hours deep diving and understanding the human sleep mechanism.

According to sleep researchers, another factor that plays a huge role in our sleep cycle is the circadian rhythms. The biological clock that regulates circadian rhythms is housed deep within the brain and is known as suprachiasmatic nucleus site [SCN]. The SCN controls sleep by forwarding day-night circadian signals to the brain and body.

One of the crucial factors that allow us all to embark on our sleep journey is the beauty sleep hormone. Did you know that a hormone produced by our human body is solely responsible for coordinating our entire sleep cycle? This hormone is well known in the sleep health space. It is nothing but melatonin. It is a hormone central to coordinating sleep. Melatonin is produced mainly by the pineal gland. Darkness stimulates the synthesis of melatonin and hence 80 percent of it is produced at night. Melatonin is like the captain in charge that acts on the SCN and other pathways to inform the human body that it is nighttime.

How does melatonin work?

Imagine an Olympic race where runners are ready to begin their journey towards winning the cup. Melatonin is an official that says, “Runners, on your mark!”, and fires the pistol. Interestingly, melatonin is vital as it is a powerful antioxidant molecule, with proven antihypertensive and lipid-lowering effects which help us sleep better.

The wonderous benefits of melatonin:

It has other benefits beyond sleep such as below:

It has been demonstrated that melatonin, among other things, has anti-inflammatory properties. Through a variety of mechanisms, melatonin lessens tissue damage during inflammatory reactions. Thus, it lowers macromolecular harm in all organs due to its capacity to directly scavenge hazardous free radicals.

Melatonin has been implicated in numerous studies as having important roles in cardiovascular disease and possibly possessing anti-ageing characteristics. In rodent species, melatonin has demonstrated considerable advantages in lowering myocardial pathology and avoiding the death of heart muscle. Additionally, under certain conditions, melatonin may also inhibit cardiac muscle enlargement, which would minimise the onset of heart failure.

Melatonin influences neuroplasticity and has neuroprotective effects, suggesting it may have antidepressant benefits.

The antioxidant properties of melatonin are linked to a decreased risk of infection and weight gain in obese patients through the modulation of the immune response. It has a significant positive impact on inflammation and consequently, on the metabolic state. Melatonin also regulates innate and adaptive immunity.

But with time, what happens to our hero hormone? Melatonin production peaks during childhood but sadly decreases as we age. After our 30s, we may have less than half the melatonin we had as a child. This leads to the prevalence of sleeping issues increasing, as we age.

Apart from age, other factors too affect the production of this hero hormone. Melatonin production is reduced with blue-light-emitting devices. Since melatonin synthesis is stimulated by darkness, just two hours of exposure to blue-light-emitting devices results in a measurable and statistically significant reduction in melatonin production.

Is it possible to change melatonin production naturally?

Yes, a quality sleep cycle would be the best solution, but consuming certain types of food can also aid in the natural production of melatonin. The dosage of melatonin that is ideal for each individual varies. The way that our body responds to melatonin may also depend on a number of variables, including body weight, metabolism, and general health. According to medical professionals, the regular melatonin intake is between 1 mg – 2 mg.

It is a naturally occurring hormone found in dietary sources and has been detected in over 250 types of foods. Melatonin-rich foods can improve sleep outcomes but getting 1–5 mg of melatonin may not be possible with food alone. To get 1–2 mg, you will need to have 65 cobs of corn or 1,152,000 cups of milk or 4,500 sour cherries and the list goes on.

The best alternative for melatonin-rich food is to consume sleep supplements that contain melatonin as the main ingredient. The consumption of over-the-counter supplements or sleep gummies are some of the safest ways to include melatonin in your daily life.

Dr YongChiat Wong is a Group Scientist, Medical & Technical Affairs, P&G Health – Asia Pacific, India, Middle East, and Africa. Views expressed are personal.

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