Sleep better with melatonin: This is why the sleep hormone is important for the body
The darker it gets in the afternoon or evening, the more melatonin is released from the body. The sleep hormone causes us to become tired and fall into a restful sleep. In addition to this function, it also takes on other tasks. Learn more about what melatonin is, how it works, and how you can stimulate your body to make more of this hormone.
Our body produces melatonin itself. It is a hormone that is produced in the pineal gland (epiphysis) in the brain from serotonin. The retina of the eye and the intestines can also produce some melatonin, but only to a small extent. How much melatonin the body releases after production depends on the eyes. As soon as it gets dark, the distribution increases. If, on the other hand, the eyes register daylight, melatonin production is inhibited and tiredness is reduced.
This hormone production regulates the day-night rhythm, which is also known technically as the circadian rhythm. In the dark, a high dose is released into the blood, but during the day production almost ceases when it is very light. However, that changes as soon as the dark season arrives and it gets dark earlier. When the animals go into hibernation, they get tired more quickly during the day.
The physical state of being awake or tired is controlled by the hormone melatonin. In addition, it also influences the function of the kidneys and the regulation of blood pressure. Once the hormone has been released, it can, for example, attach to the blood vessels in the brain or to cells in the immune system. If the eyes register darkness, the blood pressure is automatically lowered and the body’s energy consumption is reduced.
In addition, the melatonin level has the effect of lowering the body temperature and boosting the immune system. The secretion of sex hormones is also influenced, and memory and learning are also influenced by the hormone.
During the day, the level of melatonin hormones is three to twelve times lower than at night. The older you get, the less your body will produce melatonin on its own. Therefore, older people sleep less or suffer from insomnia. This can be compensated for with melatonin supplements. However, this requires an examination by a doctor, and all preparations containing melatonin require a prescription.
This is how you support your body in producing melatonin
If you notice that you are suffering from insufficient melatonin production, you can help your body to produce more melatonin again. To do this, you can incorporate suitable foods into the menu and switch off or change behaviors that have an unfavorable effect.
To get a good sleep again, look for foods that contain the amino acid tryptophan. Melatonin is produced in the pineal gland from serotonin. Its precursor is L-tryptophan. If you have already taken a sleeping pill, the term may sound familiar. Medicines for sleep disorders often contain L-tryptophan.
The precursor L-tryptophan is converted into serotonin in the central nervous system, which in turn is converted into melatonin in the dark. If you now eat more foods rich in tryptophan, more serotonin can be formed, which is then converted into melatonin. So you sleep better afterwards and are well rested the next day. Meat with 300 mg, sesame seeds with 290 mg, fish with 270 mg and porcini mushrooms with 260 mg per 100 g have a high tryptophan content. Even higher values can be found in Parmesan cheese with 490 mg, Emmentaler with 460 mg, in soybeans and cashew nuts with 450 mg each or in Edam with 400 mg per 100 g.
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In everyday life you should also make sure that you get a lot of daylight. Light during the day and sleeping in a dark room at night can be enough to regulate the disturbed day-night rhythm again. Especially when you have to work in shifts. Since the best sleep is between 10:00 p.m. and 2:00 a.m., you should get into the habit of going to bed early. It is precisely during this time that the melatonin concentration is highest.
Light also plays a major role in the evening. You disrupt your internal clock if you look into your smartphone or PC for too long. Too bright light until late in the evening disturbs the eyes, which need increasing darkness so that the body becomes tired. Therefore, the evening activities in the living room should take place in an already insulated atmosphere. All light sources in the bedroom should be switched off. A clock radio that emits glaring light or red light diodes from chargers have a disruptive effect on the body and impair melatonin production. Light entering the bedroom from street lamps or other light sources also inhibits the release of melatonin.
Take melatonin as a medicinal preparation
Over the years, the body produces less and less melatonin, so that in old age you could actually suffer from insomnia with a pronounced deficiency. That is why doctors are allowed to prescribe melatonin to those affected from the age of 56. A thorough anamnesis and a preliminary examination are required for this.
You will then be given a prescription drug. The melatonin dosage per tablet is 2 mg. The hormone takes effect over a period of several hours. Administering the active ingredient in this retarded form has the advantage that it is suggested to the organism that it is natural melanin. When absorbed in the body, the drug has a half-life that is less than an hour. The body breaks down the active ingredient very quickly.
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With the preparation, the melatonin level is raised back to its physiological level. Problems falling asleep should thus be resolved. Overall, you should experience improved quality of sleep after taking it. If the drug is fully receptive, your night sleep will at best normalize. However, you need to be patient. The effect usually only sets in after a few days.
The treatment with melatonin as a sleep aid will only be short-term and must not be carried out on an already existing sleep disorder for any other reason. Therefore, the doctor will ask many questions in the anamnesis interview in order to find out what the causes of the sleep disorders are. In addition, the long-term effects have not yet been researched. Since there are also scientific studies on taking it during pregnancy, you should inform your doctor if you are pregnant.
Take the hormone tablet after your last meal and just before you go to bed. This increases the level of melatonin in the blood for a short time. This is a good way to fall asleep. Using the wrong dosage and taking it at the wrong time can cause side effects. In addition to a disturbed wake-sleep rhythm, nightmares are also possible, as well as dizziness, headaches, stomach cramps and decreased sexual desire. However, they only occur very rarely.
Take melatonin as a dietary supplement
In addition to the prescription medical preparation, you can buy melatonin in the pharmacy without a prescription in the form of tablets, capsules and as a nasal spray. You get these preparations with and without long-term effects. The products are declared as dietary supplements and can definitely have a positive effect.
The legal situation for free sale is so far controversial. The food supplements have an active content below 0.3 mg melatonin. Therefore there is no prescription requirement. You may even find what you are looking for in a drugstore if they have a shelf with medical products.
Of the Bundesgerichtshof is very critical of the whole thing and decided in 2017 that melatonin products must always be approved and that there is a prescription requirement for them. The reason is understandable. The judges are of the opinion that with multiple ingestion of the products you can also get the medicinal effect of 2 mg melatonin if you want to. However, a prescription would then be required for this.
Some manufacturers who produce melatonin supplements in low concentrations of active ingredients, then went to court. They argued that higher levels of melatonin can also be achieved with the consumption of certain foods. As a result, the judges had to suspend the prescription requirement for preparations below 0.3 mg melatonin. That is why you can continue to buy such melatonin products without a prescription.
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