When you think of melatonin, you probably think about its use as a sleep aid, or for jet lag. But this lesser-known hormone is actually extremely important, and in fact, functions to some extent as a "conductor" of your hormonal orchestra!
Melatonin is produced — primarily at night — by the pineal gland, a tiny gland located in the brain. The pineal acts as a controller of our body’s clock, including the day-to-day 24-hour clock that tells us when to sleep and when to wake. It also controls our lifetime biological clock that decides on bigger hormonal issues, such as when we enter puberty and when we enter menopause.
Melatonin and Sleep
Melatonin is known to be a help for sleep. Various studies have shown it to help people fall asleep more quickly, to stay asleep, have more refreshing sleep, and reduced daytime fatigue. The main side effect of melatonin is morning grogginess. If you experience this, you can drop down to a lower dose, and determine what dosage will help you sleep, without causing any morning side effects.
Some research into melatonin have reported that it improves mood upon waking, and reduces morning depression in perimenopausal and menopausal women.
Sleep and Thyroid
The pineal gland contains thyrotropin-releasing hormone (TRH) , which tells the pituitary to produce TSH — thyroid stimulating hormone. By supporting the pineal gland, there is also evidence that it can help enhance the body’s ability to convert T4 into T3, a key issue for patients with hypothyroidism.
Melatonin and Perimenopause
Dr. Walter Pierpaoli is an expert on melatonin and author of the best-selling book, The Melatonin Miracle: Nature’s Age-Reversing, Disease-Fighting, Sex-Enhancing Hormone. This Italian physician has studied the hormone for decades, and along the way, found that daily low-dose melatonin supplementation can help improve estrogen levels, and reduce luteinizing hormone and follicle-stimulating hormone levels in women under forty 40, extending fertility. Of interest to women over 40, supplementation was shown to help re-synch erratic menstrual cycles in some perimenopausal women.
Melatonin for Autoimmune Patients
Sometimes people worry about melatonin for autoimmune disease patients. Holtorf Medical Group doctors concur with Dr. Pierpaoli and other experts, who feel that this is a mistaken fear. In almost all cases, it is very safe for autoimmune disease patients, and may even help support healthy immune function.
For hormonal support and as a sleep aid, melatonin is taken at lower doses (typically, 3 to 5 mg daily, and in a slow or time-released formulation). You should ideally take it an hour before you go to bed, but in order to benefit from the normal cycle of melatonin production, make sure you take your supplement no later than 11 p.m. to allow it to reach peak level at the optimal time of around 1 a.m.
Facebook Chat on Sleep
If you missed thyroid advocate and bestselling author Mary Shomon’s Facebook chat about the effects of sleep disorders on our health, you can read through all the Q&As and the full chat transcript online here.