Melatonin and Sleep
Melatonin, often referred to as the sleep hormone, is a central part of the body’s sleep-wake cycle. Its production increases with evening darkness, promoting healthy sleep and helping to orient our circadian rhythm.
Melatonin levels decline gradually over the life-span and may be related to lowered sleep efficacy, very often associated with advancing age.
The highest concentration of melatonin is characteristic for childhood, while the older we get, the less melatonin in our body.
The changes in melatonin concentration are as follows:
- children between 1 and 3 years of age - 250 pg / ml;
- children and adolescents between 8 and 15 years of age (adolescence) - 120-180 pg / ml;
- adults - 70-80 pg / ml;
- elderly people between 65 and 85 years of age - 20-30 pg / ml.
Melatonin created within the body is known as endogenous melatonin, but the hormone can also be produced externally. Exogenous melatonin is normally made synthetically in a laboratory and, as a dietary supplement, is most often sold as a pill, capsule, chewable, or liquid.
In adults, research studies have found the clearest potential benefits from melatonin are for people who have sleeping problems related to Delayed Sleep-Wake Phase Disorder (DSWPD) and jet lag.
DSWPD is a circadian rhythm disorder in which a person’s sleep schedule is shifted later, often by a matter of hours. For people with this “night owl” schedule, it can be hard to get enough sleep if they have obligations, such as work or school, that force them to wake up early in the morning. Studies have indicated that low doses of melatonin taken before the desired bedtime can help people with DSWPD adjust their sleep cycle forward.
Jet lag can occur when a person travels rapidly across multiple time zones, such as on an intercontinental flight, because their body’s internal clock becomes misaligned with the local day-night cycle. Evidence from small research studies points to melatonin supplements as potentially helping to reset the sleep-wake cycle and improve sleep in people with jet lag.
Shift workers — people who work during the night — often struggle with sleep difficulties related to a misaligned circadian rhythm. Studies of melatonin in shift workers have had inconclusive results, although some people report a benefit.