Melatonin is a hormone formed from the neurotransmitter serotonin and secreted by the photosensitive pineal gland in the brain. Its a time keeper in the body, has a daily rhythm that peaks at night (regulating the circadian rhythm) and is even involved with the longer seasonal rhythms.

The retina (in the eye) and the gut both play a part in it's production - the messages passing through the body via the autonomic and enteric nervous systems (both systems affected by stress).

Its functions go beyond inducing sleep. It aids regulate other hormones, strengthens the immune system, has temperature lowering effects and is an anti-inflammatory and potent antioxidant.

Based on this information here are few practical things to do today to assist you sleep better:

1. Melatonin likes the dark. In our life-styles now we do not frankly go to bed when it gets dark and get up with the morning light - but it is a good idea to try to observe more of that rhythm in your life if you are having difficulty sleeping. Turn the lights down low in your house at night creating a quiet ambience.

2. Blue light is a lot worse than red light for producing melatonin. Blue light is what’s emitted by our computers and laptops, so if you are working long hours on your computer, and especially late into the night, you’re disrupting your natural sleep patterns. Turn the computer off earlier than you generally would and/or move away from the computer screen (if you leave your computer on overnight). Experiment and document precisely how the reduced hours on your computer affect your sleep.

3. Download the f.lux software on to your computer to decrease the bright lights it emits at night (Mac and PC compatible).

4. Use incandescent light instead of fluorescent light.

5. Walk for 40 minutes or more at least 4 times a week, preferably in the morning - to reset your rhythm and wake you up properly (particularly if you didn’t sleep well the night before). Its preferred to not wear sun-block (to let the vitamin D in), and without sunglasses. The morning light will reset your rhythm for the day, allowing your body to feel tired at the end of the day, based on this rhythm. Other advantages of walking are that its proven to relieve stress and anxiety, is a natural anti-depressant, and gives you some physical exercise and exertion that would improve your health and attitude usually. (Good exercise would aid you regulate your weight that affects other sleep disorders including snoring and sleep apnea.)

6. Melatonin has temperature lowering effects. It has been shown that a normal good night’s sleep is spread 6 hours before the point of your lowest body temperature, and 2 hours afterwards. Sleep cool, instead of being too hot in bed. When your core body temperature is decreased by 0.3°C you would be able to fall asleep. Work with cool temperatures for your best night’s sleep. Do not sleep under heavy doonas/duvets which cause overheating. Sleep temperatures over 32°C start reducing your beneficial rapid eye movement sleep - which is 5°C cooler than normal body temperature!

7. Any stress reducing activities will improve the body’s neurological messaging systems. Have a look at your relaxation times, giving yourself some creative, fun time every day. Ensure that your life is meaningful, contributory and personally rewarding.

There are several other ways, apart from the methods suggested here, to sleep better without using supplements and drugs - and we suggest you try them first. E.g. it could be that you are intolerant to a food additive or coloring, your insomnia may be a side effect of a medication you’re taking, etc. Get informed from a reliable source.

We suggest trying the above solutions before supplementation as it might not be necessary.

Melatonin is used as a chronobiotic (time shifting medicine), and has been shown to help with jet lag, shift work, blind subjects, delayed sleep phase (mainly relevant to teenagers) and the elderly (who produce less as they get older). If you are going to trial this supplement, timing is important - look at 7 pm or dusk as starting times. And of course, if you’re a shift worker or have jet lag, those times might not be appropriate.

According to the respected medical research publication Elsevier, no long term data exists on its use.

Author's Bio: 

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