Dancing Between Light & Dark

Being awake during the day and sleeping at night is a natural pattern of behaviour we call the sleep-wake cycle or the circadian rhythm.
Being awake during the day and sleeping at night is a natural pattern of behaviour we call the sleep-wake cycle or the circadian rhythm. It is regulated by light and darkness and two hormones called cortisol and melatonin. Cortisol is the ‘awake’ hormone. This is released when your eyes are exposed to light, sunlight or electronic light (like TV, iPads, computers or cellphones). Melatonin is the ‘sleep’ hormone. This is released in the absence of cortisol, when you are in the dark. The dance between cortisol and melatonin, the 'melatonin mambo' determines how healthy and rejuvenating your sleep will be.

did you know?
Melatonin is produced in the pineal gland. This is a pea-sized gland in the middle of your head. It is between your two cerebral cortices but outside the blood-brain barrier. During darkness when no light is transmitted to the pineal, it begins to secrete melatonin. This prepares the body for the sleep process. In the morning, increasing levels of light reverse this process through the retina to the hypothalamus (suprachiasmatic nucleus) to the adrenal pathway. This starts cortisol production.

Melatonin helps regulate the states between alert waking moments and subconscious sleep. Besides synchronizing our sleep-wake cycle, melatonin has other functions:

5 functions of melatonin:  

1. It is a potent antioxidant, scavenging free radicals in the body and the brain. This helps the  body heal and repair cell and tissue damage from the previous day.

2. It helps other antioxidants like CoQ10 and alpha-lipoic acid work more efficiently. This supports our immune system, helping fend off infections (both viral and bacterial), mop up cancer cells, and reduce the burden of autoimmune and chronic diseases.

3. It is also influential in managing autism spectrum disorders.

4. It helps convert short-term memory to long-term memory, and plays a role in memory loss associated with old age (as one ages, melatonin levels drop).

5. As a hormone, melatonin has a knock on effect on the rest of the hormone or endocrine system, influencing how efficiently glands like the thyroid, pancreas, ovaries and adrenals function. Women with low levels of natural melatonin for example are a higher risk in developing type 2 diabetes.

Melatonin is also found in nature, either in whole form or precursor form. Herbals that support melatonin levels include passion flower, feverfew and St John’s wort.

Food sources of melatonin are cherries, bananas, pineapples and oranges.

Melatonin supplements are either harvested from whole plants or created synthetically in a lab. When considering the use of a melatonin supplement please consult a trained practitioner to assess if it is appropriate to your particular needs.
Melatonin supplements work most efficiently when used in a way that mimics the natural order of life. If you take a melatonin supplement and then stare at your computer or TV screen, you are effectively canceling the supplement out - electronic light stimulates cortisol production. It works best as part of a sleep hygiene routine.

Yesheen Singh is a qualified medical doctor with a keen interest in integrative and functional medicine. His practice reflects a marriage of the technology and wisdom of western and eastern medical models, and focuses on the underlying contributors towards health imbalances. Find out more about him and Health Nation at www.healthnation.co.za or by emailing [email protected]

“Wellness Warehouse strives to help you live life well but because we are retailers and not medical practitioners we cannot offer medical advice. Please always consult your medical practitioner before taking any supplements, complementary medicines or have any health concerns and ensure that you always read labels, warnings and directions carefully, prior to consumption.”