Image capturing the transition from the tranquil night sky to the bright day sky, illustrating the natural ebb and flow of the melatonin cycle.

Melatonin is critical to our body’s circadian (daily) rhythm. In our blog, we will explain how it works and how it is controlled by our brain to help us sleep – and also to help wake us up.

What is melatonin?

Melatonin is often referred to as ‘the sleep hormone’, as it is a major factor in triggering our body to go to sleep. Production and release of melatonin comes from the pineal gland – a very small gland located in the middle of the brain. Production fluctuates throughout our body’s natural 24-hour cycle. In addition to its daily (circadian) rhythm, melatonin levels also have a seasonal (or circannual) rhythm, with higher levels in the autumn and winter when nights are longer, and lower levels in the spring and summer.

In many animals (including mammals and birds), melatonin is also essential for the regulation of the body’s seasonal biology, such as reproduction and coat growth. In humans, nocturnal levels of melatonin decrease just prior to and during puberty to allow for the pubertal change hormones to work effectively. Melatonin production then continues to decrease as we get older, with night-time levels of melatonin in a 70-year-old being a quarter of those in young adult.

How is melatonin controlled?

The daily rhythm of melatonin production by the pineal gland is driven by our body’s ‘master clock’, in a special region of our brain and is synchronised via light input from the eyes. Night-time is detected by reduced light entering the eyes, which sends a signal via the optic nerve to the pineal gland to start production and release of melatonin. Conversely, as it starts to get light in the mornings, the pineal gland receives a message to reduce production to ensure you have low levels of melatonin during the day.

As light is an important factor in the production of melatonin, night-time melatonin secretion is suppressed by a relatively dim light when the pupils are dilated. Research has shown that this is the likely reason why prolonged use of devices and smartphones before bedtime can have a negative impact on melatonin secretion, circadian rhythms, and sleep.

What happens if I have too much melatonin?

We are all individuals and there can be quite large variations in the amounts of melatonin produced from one person to another, and these are not associated with any specific health problems. However, taking melatonin supplements are becoming more prevalent to help with sleep and so should only ever be taken when prescribed and regulated by a doctor or medical professional, as very large doses can have an effect on the performance of the reproductive system.

What happens if I have too little melatonin?

Deficiencies of this hormone can lead to sleep disruptions and insomnia. If this is an on-going issue, then your doctor might prescribe melatonin supplements for the short term. Although some lifestyle changes might work more effectively, which we’ve outlined in the next section. Decreased levels of melatonin that exceed those seen during normal aging and have a long-term effect on the ability to achieve sleep quality, are thought to be a contributary factor in neurodegenerative disorders, such as Alzheimer’s disease.

What other things can help me sleep better?

There are a number of lifestyle tweaks you can make to help achieve a better quality of sleep  and we’ve listed some below. You can read more in another blog that we’ve written and which you can read here.

  • Exercise every day – even light gardening chores will count!
  • Try to stick to a good bedtime routine by going to bed at the same time each night.
  • Switch off the TV at least 30 minutes before bedtime and put away any devices.
  • Have a warm bath or shower about 30 minutes before bed, as the cooling process after you’ve stepped out will start to trigger your body into ‘sleep mode’.
  • Avoid caffeine at least 8 hours before bedtime.
  • Avoid sugary foods before bedtime as you will then experience a sugar crash during the night, and this may wake you up.
  • Ensure your bedding is made with 100% natural materials that are breathable and temperature regulating – wool bedding is fantastic for this.

At Devon Duvets, we’re committed to making bedding that helps you sleep better. Each duvet, topper and pillow is individually handcrafted by our team of professional seamstresses in our Devon workshops, using beautiful 100% British wool that’s natural, sustainable and chemical free. For more information, call on 01752 345399 or get in touch via email.

Always consult your doctor if you are experiencing prolonged difficulties with sleep.


Ref: Society for Endocrinology, UK