Date of the last update: 26.04.2022
The number of people experiencing sleeping problems has significantly risen these days. It is thought that about half the population suffers from sleep disorders. It is often linked to stress that accompanies us, to worries about work, health and marriage. Sleep problems are also induced by shift work, especially working at night. That disturbs our rhythm of day and night. And this can be the reason for reaching for sleeping pills, such as melatonin. They help us fall asleep quickly, even when we are not sleepy at all. But not all of them are effective. What is melatonin and what are its properties? Are there any other remedies that can be its effective substitute? You will find that out in our article.
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Melatonin – what it is
Melatonin is the so-called “sleep hormone”, which is produced by the pineal gland located in our brain. What is important, melatonin is produced when it gets dark and it makes us feel sleepy. During the day, the amount of this hormone is low enough to let us function normally and have plenty of energy to go through the day. The pineal gland plays a very important role in the human biological clock, as it regulates the day and night cycle. Studies have shown that melatonin has antioxidant and immune boosting properties. It allows us to regenerate our body during sleep and gives us energy.
With high levels of melatonin we:
- feel sleepy,
- have uninterrupted sleep,
- fall asleep without any problems,
- enjoy physiological sleep – alternating phases of sleep occur normally.
It is worth knowing that secretion of melatonin by pineal gland is disrupted by light exposure. The more light reaches the pineal gland (through the eyeballs), the less melatonin is produced, and thus it’s a signal for the body to wake up. The same is true at night, although the effect is the opposite – the less light, the more melatonin is secreted and makes us feel sleepy. Unfortunately, sitting up all night in the light can be a problem, as melatonin is then produced in low amounts. That causes difficulties falling asleep, and then disrupts our day and night rhythm.
Melatonin and sleep disorders
If melatonin secretion is disturbed, there comes a point when our body demands rest much later than usual. This disorder occurs when your biological circadian rhythm and lifestyle are out of sync because of working shifts, partying, watching TV late and using the internet for too long. The problem of staying up late during the night usually affects young people. It is, however, only in the morning that they feel the effects – they are sleepy and distracted. But in older people sleep phases are accelerated, that is why seniors often go to bed before 9 or 10 p.m. The shift in the peak of melatonin secretion makes elderly people go to bed sooner, but lets them wake up refreshed early in the morning when many people are still asleep.
Bear in mind that the disrupted circadian rhythm leads to melatonin deficiency, which in turn makes you exhausted during the day and can deteriorate your health. Deficiency of this hormone can cause:
- difficulty falling asleep at night,
- difficulty waking up in the morning,
- lack of energy during the day,
- problems with concentration,
- deteriorated physical condition,
- lowered mood,
- balance disorders.
What are the alternatives to melatonin?
Melatonin is considered to be one of the most popular sleep remedies. In a way, it is an antidote for insomnia. There is no better sleep cure than melatonin, which after all is naturally produced by the human body itself.
There are, however, other products that aid falling asleep. These include:
- Bananas – they facilitate falling asleep thanks to the magnesium they contain, which is essential for the proper nervous system function. They are also a source of tryptophan, which takes part in the production of serotonin (it is responsible for the process of falling asleep).
- Milk – sugars present in milk stimulate serotonin production, too.
- Wholegrains – an excellent source of complex carbohydrates and B vitamins; they support serotonin production.
- Fish – a source of unsaturated fatty acids, which affect proper sleep.
- Cherry juice – contains melatonin.
- Melissa and chamomile – these herbs have a calming effect, they soothe the nerves and can improve your sleep.
- Citrus fruits – the presence of vitamin C helps you fall asleep.
There are also foods that should be avoided immediately before going to bed. These include products which:
- provide simple sugars, as they induce hunger pangs,
- are rich in protein but do not contain carbohydrates, as they take long to digest,
- containing caffeine – they stimulate and can stop you falling asleep,
- are rich in saturated fats – they are hard to digest and overburden your digestive system.
Troubles falling asleep will certainly accompany us until the end of our lives. There are several factors that contribute to that and cannot always be avoided. It’s worth bearing in mind that sleep deprivation or poor sleep may take a serious toll on your health. About 7 hours of sleep is recommended to have energy and ability to perform during the day. To fall asleep faster, it’s also a good idea to cut down on certain foods immediately before you go to bed, and instead support yourself with products that make falling asleep easier.