Every minute, night or day, your body’s factory never stops. When you put your head on the pillow at night, you start producing a hormone that helps the body sleep. That hormone is melatonin. Inside your brain, the pea-sized pineal gland spits out melatonin, while during the day it manufactures the opposite hormone: serotonin. This is a very important neurotransmitter that relays messages between nerve cells. The melatonin-serotonin cycle represents your body’s balance of sleeping and awakening. It is the hormonal infrastructure, if you will, of your natural “circadian” rhythm.
Melatonin can only be produced in good quantities when it is dark. But now, the burgeoning supplement industry has bottled the nighttime hormone for people to use who have difficulty sleeping. And, frankly, it is effective. Say you have thrown off your circadian rhythm by staying up late a couple of nights in a row. When you need to return to a regular sleeping pattern, this supplement can help get you there. And for those who have chronic difficulty sleeping (insomniacs), small disruptions to their sleeping patterns can throw them for a loop. Melatonin is perhaps the best thing to take if your insomnia has been caused a disruption (you had to work the late shift, were needed at the hospital, were traveling, etc.) to your sleep pattern.
Now, researchers have found out that melatonin could benefit the heart too. People can take a melatonin supplement at bedtime, and it will cause a drop in blood pressure. Blood pressure normally drops during the night. Part of that drop is due to the fact that melatonin is being released into your body.
In a clinical trial, researchers at the Harvard Medical School wanted to find out if the inverse was true: whether chronic low levels of melatonin are a risk factor for the development of high blood pressure. They examined the association between first morning melatonin levels and the risk of developing hypertension among 554 young women. None of the women had hypertension at the outset of the study. The participants were followed for eight years. The research team reported that a total of 125 women developed hypertension. They compared melatonin levels in these women and found that first morning melatonin levels are independently and inversely associated with hypertension and that low melatonin may be a factor in the development of hypertension.
Note that melatonin supplementation is only recommended over the short term. Make sure you consult with your healthcare provider before taking melatonin. Is there any way that you can increase your melatonin levels without supplementation? Try a little meditation. Research suggests that people who meditate have significantly higher melatonin levels than people who do not.