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The Health Benefits of Melatonin are More Than Just a Good Night’s Sleep!

The Health Benefits of Melatonin are More Than Just a Good Night’s Sleep!

Philosophers and mystics throughout time have referred to the pineal gland as the “third eye.” The French philosopher Descartes even declared that the pineal gland is the seat of the human soul. Because of its special location near the center of the brain, between the two hemispheres, some people still attribute a special power to the pineal gland and associate it with the sixth chakra (also called Ajna or the third eye chakra in yoga).

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Some also believe that it is a dormant organ that can be awakened to enable telepathic communication.

As it turns out, scientists now know that the pineal gland is a small endocrine gland about the size of a pea that, in addition to producing the hormone melatonin—which regulates our internal body clock and sleep cycle, is stimulated by darkness and inhibited by light.1

How does melatonin work?

Melatonin levels peak at about 2 a.m. in normal, healthy young people and about 3 a.m. in elderly people. The maximum amount of melatonin released in the bloodstream of the elderly is only half of that in young adults, which is why many scientists and health professionals believe that melatonin levels are a good marker of aging and longevity.

Melatonin levels are low during the day. At sunset, the cessation of light triggers neural signals which stimulate the pineal gland to begin releasing melatonin. This rise continues for hours, eventually peaking around 2 a.m. (3 a.m. for the elderly), after which it steadily declines to minimal levels by morning. The delay in timing and decrease in intensity of the melatonin pulse is a result of the aging process. 2

Why does jet lag make you feel so lousy?

The melatonin pulse regulates many neuroendocrine functions. When the timing or intensity of the melatonin peak is disrupted—as in aging, stress, jet lag, working the night shift, or staying up all night—mental and physiological functions are adversely affected. And if you’ve ever been on a trans-continental flight, pulled an all-nighter, or worked the night shift, you know exactly what we’re talking about. Your mind doesn’t work as clearly as usual, you forget details and facts, you may feel irritable and have trouble making decisions—all because your biological clock isn’t ticking the way it normally does.

Work and other activities that disrupt the normal circadian cycle in a way similar to jet lag are said to cause “artificial jet lag.” But if you take melatonin in the evening (in the new time zone that you’ve traveled to, for instance) it will rapidly reset your biological clock and almost totally alleviate—or prevent—the symptoms of jet lag. The ability of melatonin to alleviate jet lag was demonstrated in a study of 17 people flying from San Francisco to London, eight time zones away. Eight of the subjects took 5 mg of melatonin, while nine subjects took a placebo. Those who took melatonin had almost no symptoms of jet lag. Six out of nine placebo subjects scored above 50 on the jet lag scale, and all of the melatonin subjects scored below.3 Most people sleep well with melatonin, and wake up the next day refreshed with no symptoms of jet lag 4 —although they may still have some fatigue from the wear and tear of traveling.

Whether you experience jet lag or artificial jet lag, studies show that if you take melatonin in a low dose before sleep, it increases your circulating melatonin levels to those normally observed at night, so that you can fall asleep, stay asleep, and wake up feeling refreshed instead of groggy.5

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Editor's Note:

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  9. Anisimov VN, Popovich IG, Zabezhinski MA, Anisimov SV, Vesnushkin GM, Vinogradova IA. Melatonin as antioxidant, geroprotector and anticarcinogen. Biochim Biophys Acta. 2006 Apr 17; [Epub ahead of print].

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