Sleep is a necessary function in keeping our bodies healthy. Sleep deprivation can result in emotional and physical fatigue, as well as a breakdown in cognitive functions. Our post-industrial society offers distractions and barriers that inhibit sleep.
The Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School has found that in the short term, sleep deprivation can affect judgment, learning, emotions, and other cognitive functions. In the long term, chronic deprivation can result in higher rates of “obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and even early mortality.”
What is Melatonin?
Melatonin is a naturally occurring hormone, found in people, plants, and animals. Hormone levels fluctuate during the day, increasing or decreasing, depending on the environment.
Free radicals are unpaired groups of atoms that interact with certain molecules, such as our DNA or cell membranes. These interactions can lead to poor cellular function, and even cellular destruction. A powerful antioxidant, melatonin absorbs free radicals in the body, arresting these reactions and preventing molecular damage.
One of the major benefits of melatonin is it is paramount in regulating the sleep cycle, making a proper balance of the hormone a critical component to an individual’s health. The absence of light causes an increase in melatonin production, which aids in sleep. When light is introduced, melatonin production decreases. If the body is deprived of light during the day, or receives too much at night, levels of melatonin can deviate outside an optimal balance. This inconsistent and unnatural frequency of exposure may disrupt the sleep cycle.
Based on medical research, the University of Maryland Medical Center has found evidence that individuals who take melatonin supplements are able to fall to sleep more quickly. Further, sufficient levels of melatonin help an individual to maintain sound sleep, through the night. Melatonin levels can decrease as one gets older. Taking the supplement helps to establish a healthy and consistent sleep cycle over time. Hormone levels can also fluctuate seasonally and the introduction of supplements assists in adjusting to the seasonal changes.
Melatonin has other benefits beyond helping to maintain a restful sleep cycle. There is evidence that melatonin may decrease deterioration in the cognitive ability of Alzheimer’s patients, possibly by defending brain cells from “beta-amyloid,” a toxic protein. The hormone has also demonstrated the ability to fight various types of cancer and counteract the harmful effects of chemotherapy. Scientific trials have provided evidence that melatonin supplements increase the life span of individuals suffering from cancer. Melatonin has also proven to be an effective treatment for migraines.
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