What happens to your body when it becomes oh so tired? The secret lies in a smart hormone called melatonin.

Melatonin comes from the brain’s pineal gland, a pinecone shaped portion of the brain measuring about one centimeter long. Melatonin helps your body gauge the amount of light surrounding you and tells your brain whether to liven up or get ready for rest.

This cycle of rising and resting is called your circadian rhythm, otherwise known as an internal clock. Your circadian rhythm controls your sleeping cycles, and melatonin is a key player in this important body clock.

Melatonin helps to regulate your body’s circadian rhythm.

Here’s how it works: Your retina, located in your eye, processes the amount of light in your surroundings and then relays that information to the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN), in the brain’s hypothalamus.

The SCN is the heart of your internal, 24-hour, biological clock that regulates your body’s rhythms—including that all important sleep cycle. The SCN alerts your pineal gland that it’s almost bedtime, and your pineal gland secretes melatonin.

When the sun sets and your surroundings grow dark, separate sections of your brain communicate with each other, ultimately producing melatonin and making you tired enough to sleep.

Melatonin levels rise in your blood, usually starting around 9 p.m., and you gradually start to feel less alert. However, melatonin only starts secreting if your environment is dimly lit. Sunlight or lamps can inhibit the production of this crucial sleep hormone, making it difficult for you to fall asleep.

Sleep is a miraculous scientific process that results from your body being in sync with nature.

Modern life, with its indoor lamps and electronics, can interfere with melatonin production and make it difficult to sleep. Melatonin supplements are available, and the National Sleep Foundation says they’re most effective for jet lag and for helping people who work night shifts fall asleep during the day.

One review of ten research studies published by the Cochrane Library found that melatonin helped travelers who crossed five or more time zones adjust to their destination’s local time. The best method appeared to involve taking five milligrams close to bedtime in the destination.

For workers assigned to night shifts, melatonin supplements can help reset circadian rhythms and make it easier to sleep during the day, according to researchers from the Monash University School of Psychology and Psychiatry in Australia. 

Do you find it easy to sleep at night? Have you used melatonin to help with your natural sleep cycle?

Photo by Kris Krug via Flickr 


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