Researchers at the University of Maryland Medical Center suggest that there is a strong correlation between the amount of sleep a person gets at night and the ability to lose or maintain weight. As we age, it may be even harder to get a good night's sleep. This may be caused by external factors such as stress and family commitments. It may also be caused by internal factors such as decreasing melatonin levels.
What is Melatonin
Melatonin is a hormone produced within the pineal gland in the brain. It is responsible for making us sleepy and regulating our bodies to know when it is time to sleep and when it is time to wake up. Melatonin levels rise in the evening to make us feel sleepy. They remain high throughout the night to help us remain asleep. As morning approaches, melatonin levels decrease, which allows us to wake up.
How Melatonin Affects Sleep
Adequate melatonin levels are necessary for the body to regulate its sleep and awake cycles. When melatonin levels begin to drop, symptoms of sleeplessness or even insomnia can occur. Those suffering from a deficiency in melatonin may notice that it is harder to fall asleep or to stay asleep during the night. As we age, melatonin levels will naturally decrease, making sleep irregularities more common. It is possible for some older people to produce little or no melatonin at all.
How Sleep Affects Weight
Studies at the Washington School of Medicine in St. Louis show a correlation between low melatonin levels and weight gain, especially around the stomach area. When melatonin levels are low, the ability to get a good night's sleep diminishes. A lack of sleep not only causes us to feel tired and frustrated, it also increases the secretion of certain hormones such as leptin, cortisol and ghrelin. Increased levels of these specific hormones cause the body to gain weight and make the ability to lose weight much more difficult.
How to Increase Melatonin Levels
It is possible to increase low melatonin levels and restore them to normal levels. Melatonin levels are affected by light. Being out in the sunlight can naturally increase melatonin levels. Some foods, such as oatmeal, cottage cheese, tuna and soy nuts, are also known to increase melatonin levels. Melatonin can also be found in the form of a dietary supplement. The dosage needed varies by person, and the use of these supplements should be discussed with a physician before using.
Side Effects of Melatonin Supplements
Taking melatonin supplements can help people increase the length and quality of sleep that they get each night. But, like any dietary supplement, there is the risk of side effects for those who take it. The main side effect of taking melatonin is sleepiness; some people report feeling groggy and unable to concentrate in the morning. Other common side effects include headaches, stomach problems and vivid dreams while sleeping.