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The role of melatonin in treating insomnia

Insomnia brought on by stress and other distractions is a sleep disorder, a parasomnia, which prevents the subject from sleeping at night when the body needs to rest.

The mechanisms that induce sleep are not yet fully understood by medicine even if it follows closely this disorder. In fact, it has established, in various countries, real sleep clinics, specialized in the treatment of the most serious cases. In milder cases, instead, we have two different possibilities: an environmental improvement concerning the subject quality of life, and the intake of substances that induce sleep. To achieve an acceptable result, it is often appropriate to try both.

The substances that help falling asleep are different. They range from hypnotic drugs, which modify the functioning of the central nervous system, relaxing substances such as chamomile, which slightly decrease brain activity by facilitating body to enter the state of sleep and the substances that instead improve the natural induction of sleep, such as melatonin.


Melatonin mechanism of action.

Melatonin is a hormone produced naturally by the body, specifically by the epiphyseal gland, in the absence of light. Integration from outside increases its blood concentration.

From birth and over the years, the production cycle of melatonin acquires a certain regularity, which leads the human being falling asleep and wake up more or less at the same time: this phenomenon is called the circadian rhythm.

When melatonin production is insufficient or is altered for several reasons, it may be useful to integrate orally. The substance taken will have the same effect of self-produced melatonin and enhance the body falling asleep.


Cases in which melatonin is useful for insomnia

Melatonin does not compact all types of insomnia. For example, insomnia caused by pain has nothing to do with an alteration of hormone production and therefore cannot be resolved through its intake.

Cases where insomnia is related to an altered endogenous production of melatonin are, for example:

  • Situations in which people have to stay awake during the night, i.e. night work. Especially in the early periods, the melatonin cycle is out of phase compared to normal and in the morning: when it is time to go sleeping, the production decreases while it should increase to allow sleep.
  • Jet leg: it is a typical situation in which the cycle of melatonin is completely reversed, due to very long trips. The problem can therefore be pointing to an irregular production of melatonin. It can be resolved by taking the supplement.
  • Particularly stressful situations: stress can decrease endogenous melatonin production, which can be covered by oral supplementation.
  • Irregular sleep, for reasons not related to the subject itself: nocturnal availability, newborns who wake up at night, etc.
  • Situations where it is difficult to maintain the ideal sleep environment: presence of loud noises, lights on, too low or too high temperature, and other factors not related to the subject itself, which may impact negatively on endogenous melatonin production. In these cases the integration promotes sleep.

All the reported cases share a defect of endogenous melatonin production, or an irregularity thereof.  They all can be solved in whole or in part by integration from the outside.

Melatonin should be taken continuously for a few weeks, to have higher chance of getting the desired effect. Note that this is not a drug that can induce sleep immediately, but a natural substance that get the body “used” to the presence of the molecule so to produce it independently later.

In practical terms:  if melatonin is taken every night just before bedtime at 10, the brain will get used to it. At the moment the assumption is interrupted few weeks later, at 10 p.m. the brain will expect melatonin that, not coming more from outside, will be produced abundantly from the epiphysis. There will be then no more need to try the food supplement, unless the disturb occur once again.

Author Info

Internazionale Biolife S.r.l.