Melatonin, produced in the pineal gland in the brain, is a key player in regulating sleep and the body’s natural sleep/wake cycle.
The sleep/wake cycle, also known as the circadian or biological clock, is present in many animals including mammals and single-celled organisms.
The circadian clock’s main function is to monitor our bodies, helping us sleep when it’s dark and be active during the day.
Jet-lag, an irregular sleep pattern, or shift-work can disrupt our biological clock and cause many health problems such as sleep disorders, a lowered immune system, weight gain, and an increased risk of cardiovascular disease.
Melatonin treatments have been successfully used to help circadian clock disruptions and improve sleep for shift-workers and those affected by jet-lag.
Now, new research reveals that melatonin could also help promote healthy physical and mental aging, with exciting implications in Alzheimer’s disease studies.
A new review of melatonin treatments in regards to sleep disorders published in the British Journal of Pharmacology highlights the links between melatonin, our circadian rhythm, and diseases.
“Deviant circadian rhythms and poor sleep quality are associated with increased risks of cardiovascular, metabolic, and cognitive diseases, as well poor quality of life and increased risks of premature death,” said Dr. Nava Zisapel from Tel Aviv University, in Israel, the author of the review.
Zisapel shows that melatonin treatments could be used for more than just regulating healthy sleep and could help with neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s because of the role sleep plays in memory and cognitive functioning.
“In healthy humans, periods of sleep following learning, consistently enhanced retention of the learned material in a variety of memory tasks compared to wakefulness,” writes Zisapel in his review. “Considering the role of sleep in memory consolidation it is not surprising that insufficient sleep can reduce cognitive ability including attention and memory.”