Volume 4, Issue 18
May 5, 2011

Does your melatonin peak
at the wrong time?

One of the most common problems I see in patients over the age of 60 is a nasty combination of feeling tired during the day, and awake and restless during the night. It seems that as people age, they tend to get upside down in this way. I’m sure you know what I’m talking about. It’s a very common problem, but what is causing it? And how can you fix it?

A study out of The First Affiliated Hospital of Anhui Medical University in Hefei, China has discovered why this happens so often. Better yet, it gives some clues about what you can do to prevent and treat it when it happens. And, as you might guess, the whole issue surrounds hormones and how they change as we get older.

A normal sleep cycle goes something like this: As the sun goes down and you turn off the lights, your body starts to release the hormone melatonin. This does two things. First, it shuts down the production of hydrocortisone. This is important because hydrocortisone is the wakefulness hormone. It makes us feel alert and awake. And if your body doesn’t shut it down, then there’s no way that you will be able to sleep. And second, the release of melatonin directly induces sleep.

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Then, starting around 5:00 or 6:00 in the morning, your body starts to produce less melatonin and increasing amounts of hydrocortisone. That causes you to wake up. As soon as the lights go on, or the sun comes up, your body completely blocks the release of melatonin. The result is that hydrocortisone exerts all of its wakeful effects without melatonin hampering it. The result is we feel well rested and alert.

This sleep cycle is a circadian rhythm. This term refers to the natural rhythms of the body. There are many circadian rhythms. But your sleep rhythm makes you alert and energetic during the day, and sleepy in the night.

But what if your body rearranges this cycle? That's exactly what these researchers from China wondered.

They looked at 52 people, some of whom were young, some middle-aged, and some older. They checked their salivary melatonin levels every two hours for a 24-hour period. They found almost every one of them, 51 out of 52, showed a distinct circadian rhythm, high at night and low during the day. So there was no disparity between the various ages when it came to the rhythm.

But then when they looked at the actual levels of melatonin, they found something completely different.

As people got older, not only did their night-time melatonin levels become less, their daytime levels became greater. And this was not a slight difference. The difference was more than two hours in the oldest people compared to the youngest.

But what was even more important about this study was that these changes in melatonin rhythm began early in life, somewhere around 40 years of age. Even at this age, the average melatonin levels were only 60% of what were seen in the 20-30 year olds.

This study offers doctors and patients alike a very reliable framework from which to decide who needs melatonin supplementation and who doesn’t. Until I read this study, just from my own personal observations over time, I had been convinced that any of my patients who complained of being tired during the day but who were less than 50 did not need melatonin. And now it seems, I have to readjust that thinking down to the 40 year olds.

So if you are older than 40, and you’re tired during the day after a full-night’s sleep, give yourself a trial of 3 mg of sustained release melatonin. Take it about 30 minutes before you turn out the lights each night. Do this for three weeks. That’s enough time to see if your problem is due to a melatonin deficiency.

You can buy a good source by calling Jigsaw Health at 866-601-5800.

Finding your Real Cures,

Frank Shallenberger, MD

REF: Zhou JN, Liu RY, van Heerikhuize J, Hofman MA, Swaab DF. Alterations in the circadian rhythm of salivary melatonin begin during middle-age. J Pineal Res. 2003 Jan;34(1):11-6.

Copyright 2011 Soundview Publishing, LLC

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