You probably already know that melatonin can help you sleep better, but are you aware of the brain related benefits as well?
At the Tokio Medical and Dental University (TMDU), researchers found that melatonin can enhance long-term memory. In addition to that, it may be also beneficial against cognitive decline.
What is melatonin?
Melatonin is a natural hormone, which is produced by a pea-sized gland slightly above the middle of your brain. It is responsible for signaling when it’s time to wake up and go to sleep. As a result, it promotes consistent and quality rest. Normally, in the morning your melatonin level is lower, and it goes up in the evening. Furthermore, the light that you receive on a daily basis, and your own body clock also influences the production of it.
Although your body can create melatonin by itself, it is also possible to use external sources in the form of dietary supplements. There is a wide variety of different pills, capsules and liquides that can provide you with this hormone.
People usually try to increase their melatonin levels to solve different kind of sleep problems. This can include the treatment of insomnia, avoiding jet lag, or just generally improving the quality of sleep. (1) (2)
2020 Study: Melatonin boosts memory
Circling back to the study conducted in TMDU, the research team examined the behavior of mice. It is relatively easy to the evaluate their memory, because they have a natural tendency to spend more time on investigating unfamiliar items, than familiar ones. Of course, if something is familiar, it means that they remembered that object.
During the study they tested both young and older mice. They familiarized them with objects, and gave them doses of melatonin. After that, the next day they tested their memory, and they were able to conclude that the treatment improved the animal’s cognitive performance. According to the researchers, the reason behind that is one of the metabolites of melatonin the so called N1-acetyl-5-methoxykynuramine (AMK). These molecules accumulate in the hippocampal region of the brain, which plays an important role in turning experiences into memory.
The results were especially remarkable in case of the older mice. Normally, showing an item three times per day wasn’t enough for them to recall these objects the next day. However, after the melatonin treatment a single exposure to the item was enough for the older mice to remember it even after 4 days.
Just like for humans, in case of mice memory loss is a sign of cognitive decline as well. Consequently, in the future melatonin/AMK therapy might be effective to treat Mild Cognitive Impairment and its possible conversion to Alzheimer’s disease. (3)
Other benefits of the sleep hormone
According to researches melatonin may help with the following areas as well:
- Increasing the level of human growth hormone (HGH), that is vital to cellular regeneration. In addition, HGH can increase strength and muscle mass (4) (5)
- Promoting eye health. (6)
- Helping with GERD. (7)
- Fighting seasonal depression. (8)
How to increase melatonin
Firstly, there are a some foods, that you can consume regularly to boost melatonin levels:
- Goji berries
- Tart cherries
Secondly, you can make a couple of lifestyle changes:
- Stop using technology for a longer period of time (about 1 week), to fix your circadian rhythm.
- Turn off the lights earlier in the evening, since melatonin levels start to increase when there is less light.
- Don’t use your phone, computer, tablet, gaming consoles and don’t watch TV close to bedtime, since blue light can reduce melatonin. (Or you can use blue light blocking glasses)
- Increase relaxation, like for instance take a warm bath or drink a calming herbal tea before bed time.
Are they safe?
According to quite a few studies, melatonin supplements won’t cause addiction and they are also safe and nontoxic. In addition, several studies concluded that, the supplementation of melatonin can’t hurt the natural production of the hormone. (11) (12) (13) (14) (15)
However, some people can experience mild side-effects, like headaches or dizziness. Also just to be on the safe side, if you take any of the following medications, you should inquire of your doctor whether you can use melatonin safely:
- blood thinners
- blood pressure medication
- sleep aids
- oral contraceptives
- diabetes medications
As far as children are concerned, the vast majority of evidences about the safeness are based on studies of adult participants. Consequently, it’s not recommended for children, until we have stronger verification. (16)
In addition, doctors currently don’t endorse melatonin supplements to pregnant women. (17)
How to use them?
If you have never tried melatonin before, try to take a lower dose product, something between 1-5 mg. After that, if you have serious sleep issues, you might want to try a higher dose supplement, between 5-10 mg. Whichever one you will choose, you should always take it 30 minutes before bedtime.
Which is the best product?
One of the most trusted brands that produces melatonin supplements, is Natrol. In Amazon, their products both received “Best Seller” and “Amazon’s Choice” rewards. In addition, they also got two times the “Top Rated Melatonin Products” consumer satisfaction awards in ConsumerLab.com. It is also the #1 melatonin brand in America, and of the nation’s leading manufacturers of dietary supplements.
They also offer a wide variety of products with different doses, so that you can start with 1 mg and slowly work your way up, using the 3 mg and after that the 5 mg product, if it is necessary. In case none of them help you sleep better, you can try their best seller product with 10 mg melatonin and additional B vitamins.
Melatonin can help you improve your sleep, HGH levels, eye health, GERD and seasonal depression. In addition, in 2020 it turned out it can also boost your memory, and may protect against cognitive decline.
Certain foods and lifestyle changes can help you increase the production of the sleep hormone, and supplementation is also available.
With regards to the dietary supplements, they are safe and they can only cause mild side effects. However, they may interact with some medications, and due to the lack of studies, currently they are not recommended for children and pregnant women.