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Melatonin and Sleep

Updated: Jun 10, 2023

Melatonin is primarily produced and released by the pineal gland, a small gland located deep within the brain. The pineal gland is often referred to as the "third eye" due to its light-sensitive nature and its involvement in regulating the sleep-wake cycle and other biological rhythms.

The production of melatonin is regulated by the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) in the hypothalamus, which receives information about light exposure from the eyes. In response to darkness, the SCN signals the pineal gland to increase the production and release of melatonin into the bloodstream. This rise in melatonin levels helps signal the body that it is nighttime and promotes sleep.

Melatonin production follows a circadian rhythm, meaning it fluctuates over a 24-hour period. Levels start to rise in the evening, peak during the night, and then gradually decline in the early morning hours. This natural rise and fall of melatonin help regulate the body's sleep patterns and synchronize them with the day-night cycle.

It's important to note that melatonin is also produced in smaller amounts by other tissues in the body, such as the retina, gastrointestinal tract, and immune cells. However, the pineal gland is the primary site of melatonin synthesis and release, playing

Melatonin does not take part in sleep, it merely signals the start of sleep. Melatonin is like the "Olympic race starter" it calls all systems that get involved in sleep to the start line of sleep but does not take part in sleep. If you don't have a disorder called delayed sleep phase syndrome (DSPS) or are not jetlagged or a shift worker or aircrew, melatonin should not work. If it does, it is probably a placebo effect. It's important to note that melatonin is not a sedative and may not be effective for all sleep-related issues. It is generally considered safe for short-term use, but long-term effects and optimal dosages are still being studied. As with any supplement or medication, it's advisable to consult with a healthcare professional to determine the appropriate dosage, timing, and suitability for your specific situation, particularly if you have underlying medical conditions or take other medications. They can provide personalized guidance and monitor your progress.

Melatonin supplementation can be effective for certain individuals and specific sleep-related conditions.
Here are some key points to consider:

#1 Sleep disorders:

Melatonin supplements have been shown to be helpful in treating delayed sleep phase syndrome, and jet lag. Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome (DSPS), also known as Delayed Sleep Phase Disorder (DSPD), is a sleep disorder characterized by a persistent delay in the timing of the sleep-wake cycle. People with DSPS typically have difficulty falling asleep and waking up at conventional times, causing them to have a delayed sleep schedule that is significantly later than the societal norms.

Individuals with DSPS often experience a natural tendency to fall asleep and wake up later than desired, typically going to bed in the early morning hours (e.g., 2-6 a.m.) and waking up in the late morning or afternoon (e.g., 10 a.m. - 2 p.m.). This pattern can lead to difficulties in adhering to social and work obligations, as well as potential daytime sleepiness or fatigue. For individuals with this condition, melatonin supplementation can assist in regulating the sleep-wake cycle and improving sleep quality.

#2 Circadian rhythm disturbances:

Melatonin is involved in regulating the body's internal clock and circadian rhythms. Supplementing with melatonin can be beneficial for individuals who experience disruptions to their natural sleep-wake cycle, such as shift workers or those with irregular sleep patterns.

#3 Sleep onset difficulties:

Melatonin supplements may be particularly effective for individuals who have trouble falling asleep. If you fall asleep but can't remain asleep. Melatonin is not for you.

#4 Individual response:

The effectiveness of melatonin supplementation can vary among individuals. Some people may find it very helpful, while others may not experience significant benefits. Factors such as individual sensitivity, dosage, timing, and underlying sleep issues can influence the response to melatonin. For some, it's the placebo effect.

#5 Jet lag:

Melatonin supplementation can help minimise the effect of jet lag by helping to reset the body's internal clock to the new time zone. Taking melatonin at the appropriate time based on the destination's local time can aid in adjusting sleep patterns.

For example, when travelling from Western Australia to New York, you would be crossing a significant number of time zones eastwards, usually around 12 to 15, depending on the specific flight route. If you travel East, you lose time, in West you gain time. For example, travelling from Western Australia to New York is hard because you lose time.

Adjusting to such a large time difference can result in more pronounced jet lag symptoms, flying westwards is better for jet lag. This is because west travel involves time gain (your day simply gets longer). The circadian rhythm can handle a longer day adjustment better than a shorter day. This is because the average length of the human circadian rhythm is around 24 hours and 15 minutes. This additional 15 minutes means that, over time, the internal body clock might gradually drift out of sync with the 24-hour day-night cycle.

As a general guideline, it can take approximately one day to adjust for each time zone crossed when travelling eastward. However, it's important to note that individual experiences may vary. Sleeping in the aeroplane according to the time zone of your destination can help.

In the case of flying from Western Australia to New York, which involves travelling eastward, it may take around 12 to 15 days for your body to fully adapt to the local time in New York. This means you may experience jet lag symptoms such as fatigue, difficulty sleeping, irritability, poor concentration, and digestive issues for that duration.

Here are some tips on how to take melatonin effectively for jet lag:

#1 Timing:

Take melatonin at the appropriate time based on your destination's local time. It's typically recommended to take melatonin close to your target bedtime at your destination. This helps to align your body's internal clock with the new time zone.

#2 Pre-flight adjustment:

If you are travelling to a destination in a different time zone, you can start adjusting your sleep schedule a few days before your flight. Gradually shift your bedtime and wake-up time closer to your destination's schedule to help your body adapt to the new time zone.

#3 Dosage:

The appropriate melatonin dosage for jet lag can vary depending on factors such as age and individual sensitivity. Generally, a low dose of 2mg is recommended.

#4 Bright light exposure:

In addition to taking melatonin, exposure to bright light can also help regulate your sleep-wake cycle. Seek bright light exposure in the morning at your destination to help reset your internal clock.

#5 Sleep hygiene:

Practice good sleep hygiene habits, such as avoiding screens before bedtime, creating a comfortable sleep environment, and establishing a relaxing bedtime routine. This can help optimize the effectiveness of melatonin and promote better sleep.

Remember that adopting healthy travel habits, such as staying well-hydrated, avoiding excessive alcohol and caffeine consumption, and getting regular exercise, can also contribute to reducing the impact of jet lag.

Dr Purity Carr is a GP and Menopause Doctor in Harvey, Western Australia

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1 Comment

Unknown member
Jun 08, 2023

This blog on how melatonin can aid sleep, especially to aid with jet lag is extremely informative and invaluable for those of us that are travelling abroad to place with significantly different timezones. It also clearly explains why melatonin never worked for me when it was prescribed by my GP for my inability to get a decent night's sleep. Since starting my tailor made HRT regime prescribed by Purity Carr, I have had the best nights' sleep in years! Thank you, Purity!

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