Melatonin : Spotlight on the sleep hormone, its benefits and risks


Sleep is an essential part of our overall well-being, influencing not only our physical health but also our mental and emotional state. When the nights become restless and it’s difficult to fall asleep, many people turn to solutions to help them get a good night’s rest. That’s where melatonin comes in. This hormone, often referred to as the ‘sleep hormone’, plays a crucial role in regulating our sleep and wake cycles.

But where do we find this melatonin, how does it work in our bodies, and what are its potential side effects? Let’s take a closer look at its role and the precautions to take to maximise its benefits! 

What is melatonin?

Melatonin, also known by its chemical name N-acetyl-5-methoxytryptamine, is a hormone produced naturally by the body. Mainly produced in the brain, in the pineal gland (or epiphysis), it is secreted in greater quantities at the end of the day, when light levels fall. This increase in production acts as a natural signal that it’s almost time to go to bed. Its concentration in the blood peaks at around 3 or 4 in the morning, then gradually decreases to a minimum when you wake up.

Melatonin is produced by transforming serotonin, a neurotransmitter synthesised from tryptophan. Tryptophan is a dietary amino acid that is essential for the proper functioning of the human body. Sufficient quantities of tryptophan are therefore essential for the body to produce serotonin and melatonin. Tryptophan is obtained exclusively from food, as the body does not produce this amino acid itself. The French Food Safety Agency (Afssa) estimates daily tryptophan requirements at 200 mg, although these may vary from person to person.

To produce melatonin efficiently from tryptophan, the body also needs vitamins B2, B3, B6, B9, B12, D, magnesium, iron and zinc.


What are the benefits of melatonin?

Melatonin is best known for its effects on sleep. In particular, it has been shown to help us fall asleep and get a good night’s sleep, as well as remedying insomnia and making it easier to adjust to jet lag.

This hormone regulates our daily biological rhythm in response to light, but also according to the seasons and variations in the length of daylight.

And its influence doesn’t stop there: it also plays a crucial role in regulating appetite, the immune system, mood and body temperature.

melatonin and insomnia

In addition, emerging research is exploring its antioxidant properties, which could make it a promising ally in the fight against cancer.

Overall, melatonin is involved in a number of physiological processes, including those linked to regeneration and repair of the body.

When and how should synthetic melatonin be used?

Melatonin deficiency can cause sleep disturbances, as well as eating disorders, anxiety and even depression. Faced with these symptoms, you may be tempted to take melatonin supplements.

However, it is essential to take precautions when supplementing with synthetic melatonin. Although it has the advantage of not causing addiction like sleeping pills, it can nevertheless have side effects: drowsiness, headaches, dizziness, anxiety, irritability, as well as nausea, abdominal pain and vomiting.

As a general rule, it is advisable to limit melatonin intake to occasional use and not to exceed a daily dose of 2 mg.

In addition, the Anses (French National Agency for Food, Environmental and Occupational Health Safety) has issued a warning concerning certain populations and situations presenting a risk, for which the consumption of melatonin in the form of food supplements should be avoided or supervised by a health professional:

  • pregnant or breast-feeding women,
  • children and teenagers,
  • people suffering from inflammatory or auto-immune diseases, epilepsy, asthma, mood, behavioural or personality disorders,
  • people undergoing medical treatment, particularly treatment for mental disorders,
  • people who have to carry out an activity requiring sustained vigilance for whom drowsiness could present a safety problem.

How can I opt for a melatonin-rich diet?

Most of the time, changing your eating habits can significantly improve your sleep. So, rather than resorting to food supplements, you can first and foremost opt for a melatonin-rich diet.

These foods can be of animal origin (dairy products, eggs, fish, shellfish, meat) or plant origin (cereals, fruit, vegetables, mushrooms, nuts, oils).

Here is a list of a few key foods to include in your diet to help you get a good night’s sleep:

  • Cow’s milk
  • Sour cherries
  • Red grapes
  • Pistachios
  • Oily fish
  • Rice
  • Eggs
  • Mushrooms
  • Oats
  • Bananas
melatonin and aliments

What other tips can help you get a good night’s sleep?

A healthy lifestyle can also help you to get a good night’s sleep. It is possible to sleep well naturally, provided you adopt some new habits:

– Going to bed at regular times

– Eating a light supper

– Avoiding stimulants

– Practising regular physical activity

– Banning screens at bedtime

By making adjustments to both your diet and your behavioural habits, you can increase your chances of overcoming sleep disorders and enjoying calm, restful nights for the long term.

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