Melatonin, the guardian of sleep
From the beginning of life, all living beings are governed by the need to sleep: in fact without sleep we cannot survive. Today the lack of sleep can affect every age bracket. It is believed that about 10% of adults in the world suffer from severe insomnia. Over the last 50 years, we have lost an hour and a half of sleep per night on average. One of the reasons for this is the constant presence of lighting.
The day-night cycle represents one of the most crucial synchronisers of our internal biological clock. The invention of blue LED light completely revolutionised the lighting system. We are continuously inundated by blue light without realising it and our brain interprets this exposure as sunlight.
Melatonin is the hormone that induces sleep, it is produced naturally in the centre of the brain in the epiphysis (pineal gland). In humans, the secretion of melatonin increases soon after darkness falls; it reaches its peak in the middle of the night (between 2 and 4 in the morning), to then gradually decrease in the last part of the night. The plasmatic concentrations of this hormone vary considerably depending on age: they start decreasing in adults, and especially in the elderly. The continuous fluctuation of serotonin and melatonin levels during the day and night help generate vital rhythms that affect many daily activities. For example, the secretion of many hormones is directly or indirectly affected by serotonin and melatonin.
In the past few years many clinical studies have highlighted how melatonin is a hormone that has many effects on various organs and systems of the human body. The beneficial effects induced by melatonin can be summarised as:
- Regulating the sleep/wake cycle. Taking melatonin regulates sleep, helping the onset, the duration and the quality, also determining an increased duration of REM sleep, all the while without causing an increase in daytime sleepiness.
- Strengthening the immune response and the activity of a number of lymphocytes, cells that provide an anti-inflammatory action;
- Antiproliferative effect that inhibits the growth of tumours;
- Stabiliser role in cyclical mood disorders (seasonal affectivity disorders, depression in the winter);
- Protective effects against premature ageing and reduced cell damage through the neutralisation of free radicals. To this regard it is important to remember how free radicals formed during the day represent a constant threat of aggression especially towards organs made mostly of saturated fats, such as the brain, for example.