Melatonin's Role in Sleep Regulation: The Science Behind The Darkness Hormone

Melatonin's Role in Sleep Regulation: The Science Behind The Darkness Hormone

Melatonin sleep aids are growing in popularity, with Americans spending a whopping $367 million on melatonin supplements during the 52 weeks ending November 29, 2020. If you’re among those who regularly reach for melatonin as a holistic option to end an unhealthy sleep cycle, it’s smart to understand exactly how melatonin works.

What Is Melatonin?

In layman's terms, Melatonin is a hormone produced by the pineal gland that helps regulate sleep timing. While melatonin is often thought of, and typically described, as a sleep hormone, it is a darkness hormone—it’s produced at night in animals that sleep at night (like us) or are active at night (like many big cats and rodents).

Instead of being a sleep-inducer, melatonin signals your body that it’s time to fall asleep by lowering alertness and reducing your core body temperature. It works in conjunction with the body’s circadian rhythms to let you know when you should rest and when you should be awake, synchronizing sleep-wake cycles with other parts of physiology and with our environment.

While melatonin is often thought of, and typically described, as a sleep hormone, it is a darkness hormone.

The drive to sleep builds the longer we’ve been awake. When there’s a large enough build-up of “sleep drive,” it only takes a little easing off of the “wake drive” for sleep to occur naturally. This easing-off is signaled by the nighttime surge in melatonin. The best sleep results occur when the sleep and wake drives are synchronized to the sun’s schedule, but the exact time of night when the melatonin surge will occur for an individual can vary based on genes and behaviors.

What Is Melatonin Best Used For?

Melatonin is most useful for resetting the circadian rhythm, such as when dealing with jet lag or sleep pattern disruptions from shift work. In these cases, melatonin supplements are used as a chronobiotic, which essentially means it’s used to adjust the timing of the body clock. While melatonin is used very frequently as a sleep aid, it’s this chronobiotic role where it really shines. 

How Can You Boost Your Melatonin Production Naturally?

Taking melatonin supplements alone won’t be nearly as effective as taking melatonin while working to improve your sleep hygiene. Remember, melatonin is a darkness hormone so if you expose yourself to too much light at night, especially blue light, you actually interfere with the production and release of melatonin. Other tips to help optimize melatonin production are as follows:

  • Create a transition time. After sunset, dim all the lights in your house and power down electronics or use blue light blocking glasses to avoid exposure to blue light.
  • Stick to a regular sleep schedule. Going to bed at the same time every night should be part of your routine, even on weekends. Time-keeping jobs in the body work best with predictability and regularity.
  • Get enough sunlight. Get some exposure to natural sunlight during the day, preferably around transition times like sunrise and sunset, to orient your body's natural biological clock.
  • Get a bit more L-tryptophan in the diet. The building block for melatonin is an amino acid called L-tryptophan. Increasing dietary L-tryptophan can support quality sleep and overall body clock function.

A Whole Systems Approach To Better Sleep

Getting a good night’s sleep requires timing and precision of what to release, where in the brain to release it, and when to release it. Sleep isn’t simple. It’s a complex ensemble of multiple interacting molecules and pathways that is dependent on circadian rhythms and is strongly influenced by our behaviors, thoughts and environment. 

It takes a lot to go right for sound sleep to occur. The good news is that the brain is up to the task of regulating all of these different factors. It can do a good job with the right support. But the right support is more than just taking an herb (or herbs) before bedtime to make a person feel sleepy—hitting the GABA brake hard a bit before bedtime—or a dose of melatonin many times higher than what our brain naturally makes.

Qualia Night was designed to offer this comprehensive support. It supports sleep without relying on herbs intended to make someone feel sleepy or giving melatonin. Instead, it is designed to help the brain better regulate the ensemble of molecules needed to support restorative sleep and waking feeling refreshed. 

Instead of giving the brain high amounts of melatonin, or herbs that produce a strong GABA signal, we think a better approach is to give broader support that the brain can use to make more of what would help it at night ...and less of what won’t. Learn more about our science-backed sleep formulation here.

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