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Melatonin: the sleep regulating hormone

 

In this case we are going to talk about melatonin. Those who are not familiar with the professional practice of psychology will wonder why treat melatonin in the area of ​​psychology? , but the answer is easier than it sounds; The object of study of psychology is man and his behavior, therefore this science also studies the biological bases that govern such behavior.

What is melatonin and how does it work?

Melatonin is a hormone produced by the brain’s pineal gland and has been studied to  work by regulating the sleep-wake cycle and chemically initiating drowsiness in humans.

Melatonin is synthesized by the central nervous system and the endocrine system from tryptophan – an essential amino acid. Being under the influence of the suprachiasmatic nucleus of the hypothalamus, it receives information from the retina about the daily patterns of light and dark.

This hormone is also known as the «hormone of darkness» , this is because light affects the amount of melatonin produced by the body and as the day ends, our bodies, thanks to specific melatonin receptors, begin to secrete it and prepare the individual for his state of drowsiness.

Melatonin is transported by the circulation of the brain to all areas of the body.  The beginning of the production of this hormone is from 3 months of age and from one year of life to 3 years is when the highest level of melatonin is produced, because over the years it decreases. Nighttime melatonin levels decline throughout puberty .

Melatonin levels can be increased by consuming foods rich in amino acids, for example: liver, garlic, sunflower seeds, among others.

Relationship between melatonin and sleep

When we are in stages 3 and 4 of the sleep cycle (deep sleep), melatonin secretion reaches its maximum level ; When moving into REM sleep (light sleep), the production of melatonin decreases , the heart rate accelerates and brain activity begins, preparing the individual to wake up.

It is within light sleep that most sleep disorders occur, and decreased melatonin secretion is one of the triggers for these disorders.

Sleep or dream?

Sleep is one of the most contentious subjects in psychology; in fact, thinkers of all ages have been especially concerned with it. But we must first of all make a distinction between sleeping and dreaming, since it is common for these words to be used interchangeably.

There are many physiological and psychological theories to explain why we sleep. Among the first we can remember the theory that maintains that the lack of brain activity when sleeping comes from a decrease in blood circulation.

Another theory, proposed by the French philosopher Henri Bergson, maintains that “sleeping is disinterest.” For the author, sleeping does not mean interrupting psychic activity in general, but suppressing the mental effort to adapt to reality.

As for sleep, it is an exclusively psychic activity that lends itself to multiple interpretations. Dreaming is an imaginative activity that occurs in the drowsy state, when we are asleep.

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Dreams are productions of images of the sleeping consciousness. These images are formed with absent material and can be of events that occurred during the day or of repressed desires. For Freud , in the dream there is no longer the control that operates in the wake, therefore, all wishes can be imaginatively fulfilled.

In the dream, our imaginative consciousness does not carry out an elaboration of unreal objects, but a fantastic reproduction of the experiences of our waking state.

What are melatonin supplements used for?

Natural melatonin levels decrease slowly with age, for this reason melatonin supplements are usually prescribed for the elderly or for those with sleep disorders.

Melatonin supplements are used to: 

  • Treat insomnia
  • Prevent or reduce sleep problems and confusion after surgery
  • Treat sleep paralysis
  • Night terrors or nightmares
  • Headache reduction
  • Treatment for Seasonal Affective Disorder
  • Control sleep patterns
  • Helps people with physical and emotional fatigue
  • Treatment for attention deficit hyperactivity syndrome
  • Helps treat depression problems
  • Decrease anxiety symptoms

Side effects and contraindications

Melatonin supplements, like all medications, have their side effects and contraindications. Not all people are affected in the same way, since each body is different, but among the most common side effects and contraindications are:

Side effects:

  • Drowsiness during the day
  • Headache
  • Gastrointestinal disorders
  • Decreased brain activity
  • Vertigo
  • Dizziness and nausea
  • Cramps

Contraindications:

  • Pregnancy and breastfeeding
  • People with type I diabetes
  • Babies and children
  • People with liver disorders
  • People with bleeding disorders
  • People with high cholesterol levels
  • Those with heart disease
  • Patients with chronic depression

As in any case, despite the fact that it is a natural-based product, it is advisable to consult a doctor before starting its use.

Does technology lower melatonin levels?

Electronic gadgets have become such an important part of our daily lives that it is often difficult to put them aside, even at bedtime.

Nighttime melatonin secretion is suppressed by relatively dim light when the pupils are dilated. Blue light emitted by screens on cell phones, computers, tablets, and televisions restricts the production of melatonin. The reduction in this hormone makes it more difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep.

Perhaps leaving our phone on the bedside table may seem harmless, but technology affects sleep in more ways than we think. We may not be using our phone directly, but just by having it turned on in our room, we will be receiving its radiation and this will probably keep us away from a night’s rest.

To improve our sleep habits and our production of melatonin, we must stop using electronic devices for at least 30 minutes before going to sleep. If we want to achieve greater results in our practice, we can try to turn off all electronic devices that are in the room, in this way our brain will be “disconnected” and will not be exposed to the radiation they emit.

 

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Hello Readers, I am Nikki Bella a Psychology student. I have always been concerned about human behavior and the mental processes that lead us to act and think the way we do. My collaboration as an editor in the psychology area of ​​Well Being Pole has allowed me to investigate further and expand my knowledge in the field of mental health; I have also acquired great knowledge about physical health and well-being, two fundamental bases that are directly related and are part of all mental health.

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