Melatonin is a naturally occurring substance found in all animals. It is known chemically by the name N-acetyl-5-methoxytryptamine.
Melatonin is a circulating hormone that affects the daily cycles of mammals. It is part of what helps animals and humans in the entrainment of the circadian rhythms.
What this means is that through melatonin receptors in the body, melatonin is responsible for signalling sleep and wake times. Variable levels of daylight actually affect natural melatonin production in the body. The secretion of melatonin thus helps to trigger sleep as daylight comes to a close and less light reaches the eyes.
The actual production of melatonin occurs in the pineal gland. The pineal gland is a small endocrine gland in the brain. The gland secretes this substance into the bloodstream and this helps to signal the body that it is time for sleep.
While melatonin is produced naturally by the human body, research has shown that as we age its natural production decreases. This is in part why adults and older people tend to sleep less than children and teenagers and why they tend to have a much higher incidence of sleep disturbances including difficulty falling asleep, middle of the night waking, and more general insomnia.
Supplemental melatonin has been shown to be a very safe and effective way to induce sleep and to reduce sleep disturbances. Melatonin supplementation also works for those suffering from temporary sleep problems such as jetlag. Popular brands include Dr Backhaus melatonin.
Not only does melatonin improve sleep, but it is also a well known antioxidant. In fact, melatonin is one of the most powerful antioxidants discovered. Importantly, melatonin does not undergo what is called the redox cycling process.
Redox cycling involves a process in which some antioxidants actually end up producing more free radicals in the body. Melatonin does not have these negative counter effects. Melatonin works as a free radical scavenger without producing more free radical formation and as such is one of a few really important antioxidants.
Melatonin has been shown to help prevent DNA damage caused by certain carcinogens. It is currently being studied as an aid for a variety of illnesses including, Parkinson’s, brain injury and cardiac arrhythmia.