Most people believe that sleep happens as a natural occurrence allowing the body to recharge and rest. While this is true, there are factors that indicate how much sleep we need and when we get it.
Melatonin is a hormone produced in the body that allows our body to know when to sleep and how much to get.
What Exactly Is It?
Within the structure of the brain is a small area called the pineal gland. This gland produces the hormones is small quantities which is then released into the blood stream. The hormone release is triggered by periods of darkness or episodes of reduced sunshine and levels are shown to be higher before bedtime than at other times during the 24 hour cycle.
Its releases dictates how long the night, or sleep should go on for and light has been found to cease its secretion. It is extremely important for maintaining our body clock and works on a rhythmic circadian (internal 24 hour clock) mechanism that is common to all mammals.
How It Effects Sleep
Research has suggested that the effects of decreased melatonin on sleep can include a lack of good quality sleep, insomnia, wakefulness and other more detailed sleep disturbances.
The levels may decrease because of:
- prolonged exposure to light such as when travelling long distances and journeys particularly when time zones differ.
- working shift patterns such as frequent night shifts that are constantly busy and require bright lights.
- spending the night in well lit rooms such as 24 hour pubs or clubs.
The levels of melatonin can become disrupted which can affect our sleeping patterns until the levels have become adjusted again and a normal routine established.
Can It Be Replaced?
Melatonin can be given as a supplementary substance and is now commonly being given to those with sleep disturbances or those who suffer from extreme levels of jet lag, although it is not licensed for general use in the UK at the current time.
The supplements available overseas can be derived from animals but this can carry the risk of being contaminated with certain diseased so it is recommended that a synthetic form is sought as it is much safer.
In the overseas market, it does not require a prescription and can be found in many pharmacies or health food shops but it is advised that you speak to your doctor about your sleep disturbances as there may be an underlying cause of the problem which may be physical or psychological and may be treatable by other methods.
The use of melatonin in the UK is only offered to those following medical advice and DOES need a prescription.
Melatonin is a substance that continues to be researched and investigated for its benefits and effects. Although it is licensed for general use in other countries it is not yet permitted for use by the public in Britain and must be used under medical supervision for those with legitimate sleeping disorders.