You may have seen bottles of Melatonin on the shelf at the local health or drug store, or even had it recommended to you by a friend to help you get “better” sleep. What you may not know is that melatonin is a hormone that is naturally present in your body and there to help you with sleep on an internal level. And even more interesting, melatonin is present in plants and animals as well as humans.
The Purpose of Melatonin in the Body
Melatonin is produced by a small endocrine gland in the brain and plays a role in your sleep-wake cycle. What that means is that it helps your body to know when you should go to sleep and when you should wake up. It regulates the sleep-wake cycle by lowering your body temperature and causing drowsiness.
Another interesting fact is that the production of the hormone decreases with age and is related to the reason that as children get older, their sleeping and waking times change. So, as much blame you try to put on your “I don’t want to go to bed” child, it’s not him or her longing to be defiant after all!
What makes melatonin even more important is that while it is reducing neurotransmissions and helping your body to sleep, it inadvertently is also helping to keep your immune system healthy. This is because your cells regenerate during sleep.
Benefits of Melatonin Supplements
The commercial form of melatonin, which is available as a supplement, has several uses. It is a natural supplement that can be bought without a prescription to help treat insomnia or sleep issues, as well as jet lag. It can help you get sleep when you’re having trouble doing so because of being stressed, anxious or even over-tired . . . as well as help you switch your internal body clock when traveling to different time zones. People who do shift-work also find melatonin supplements helpful in regulating their sleep patterns in spite of the constant change in schedule.
More Benefits of Melatonin
Melatonin has also proven useful in lowering your risk of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) or helping to combat the symptoms brought on by the disorder. This is because your body relies on light for the regular production of the hormone, and decreased levels of melatonin during winter or darker months has been directly linked to the cause of SAD. By supplementing with melatonin, you avoid this risk. (My mom has even said that taking melatonin has helped her with the effects of her restless leg syndrome!) So the applications are numerous.
The Melatonin and Cancer Connection
And if all of those weren’t enough… ongoing research is looking into the possible anti-cancer effects of melatonin. It is believed that used along with other cancer treatments, its antioxidant properties and impact on hormone-related cancers, such as breast cancer and prostate cancer, can increase survival rates. Of course, more research needs to be done in this area… but the initial findings are promising.
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