Melatonin- Cortisol Imbalance

Both Melatonin– a hormone produced by the pineal gland – and Cortisol   follow a circadian rhythm of secretion, and are the underlying mechanism of the sleep/wake cycle. Melatonin secretion peaks between 10pm and 2 am, and is adversely affected by exposure to light, EMF radiation, high levels of cortisol, and a rise in body temperature.

Melatonin is a hormone of cellular regeneration; as a powerful anti-oxidant, it mops up free radicals that can cause damage to cellular DNA. It is also important for proper immune function; and chronic deficiencies of melatonin- such as occur in shift workers (melatonin production is suppressed by exposure to light at night), chronic insomniacs- is associated with decreased longevity and increased cancer risk (especially breast, colon, prostate , lung and gastric cancer).This is because melatonin plays an important role in the function of certain lymphocytes called NK (Natural Killer) cells which are important in surveillance for cancer cells. Elevated cortisol at night will also suppress melatonin production (cf “tired but wired” phase of adrenal fatigue

Secondary effects of low melatonin levels are depressed mood, bone loss, increased body fat/weight gain. Growth hormone   is indirectly affected by melatonin, as it is produced only during REM sleep.

Strategies to increase melatonin

Strategies to increase melatonin production include attention to sleep hygiene: going to bed and getting up at the same time every day; avoiding stimulants such as caffeine or  exercise within 3 hrs of bedtime; not reading or watching TV in the bedroom, eliminating sources of glowing  LED light, such as alarm clocks, dark curtains to shut out  street lights or daylight for shift workers, turning down the heat in the bedroom, and stress management:-(visualization exercises and environmental sounds are particularly useful for inducing sleepiness.

Some nutritional supplements – such as tryptophan, phosptatidylserine, or magnolia, may be helpful; and melatonin itself can be given sublingually in doses ranging from 0.5 to 10 mgs one hour before bedtime.