A Good Night’s Sleep

Safe to say that only very few of you recall happiness-induced insomnia due to excitement? Yeah… It’s rather the frustration, tiredness, bulimia, fear or all the above combined. I’ve been there, done that! Not any longer. Like many treatments, insomnia treatment is available only to buy us time. Time until we overcome our fears or remove the cause of our frustration, tiredness, and/or bulimia. Because let’s be well understood here: medications are not a cheat-sheet to deal with the reality of our lives. They are not solutions – well, I take that back; maybe a handful of them are. But, in the vast majority of cases, we use drugs to by-pass the right choice and avoid making the needed change and that’s wrong, of course!

koala-bear-sleepsSleep should be tabu for all of us. A good night’s sleep is the magic that recovers our body’s functions and resets our timed processes. Delayed or impaired sleep has dramatic consequences on our day-by day wellness and health. Any chronic sleep-related disturbance may lead to depression, weight gain, diabetes, and even cancer. It isn’t a foreign concept to medicine, this has been reported over and over again! Research studies involving long-distance flight female attendants and night-shift female workers reported an increased risk for breast cancer (over 40% and 50%, respectively!). It’s all about a pleiotropic and multitasking molecule called melatonin!

Melatonin is a hormone produced by the pineal gland, an itsy-bitsy-tiny-mitsy endocrine gland located deeply inside our brain. What is an endocrine gland? It is a chunk of tissue with specialized cells that regularly produce stuff that keeps other parts of our body working smooth and safe. We have quite a few such endocrine glands – for example, the endocrine pancreas gland produces insulin. There is also an exocrine pancreas gland, but that is another story. Among all our endocrine glands, the pineal gland was the last to be discovered. Not surprisingly as it is very small and with a function that was identified much later than one of other endocrine glands. Interestingly, only vertebrates have a pineal gland. Mother Nature seems to have designed this interesting pine-shaped little thingie-dingy to check out our outside environment, detect when is dark and tell really quick to all the cells inside – in a language they can understand – that there is no action time and everyone should rest.

Far from making up stories here, this is exactly how it works! The pineal gland is the portion of our brain that learns from our eyes that outside is getting dark. It immediately begins producing melatonin and releases it throughout the body, so that all the parts of our body that need to be shut down at night will immediately go to sleep. No, that does not include our heart. The heart will – luckily! – keep beating while we sleep. Yeah, it’s a problem every time it doesn’t do that! Now, melatonin-making requires a precursor without which the job can’t get done. I’m sure that name will sound familiar: it’s serotonin. Another key molecule that can get in severe shortage if we adopt a sloppy, lazy and unhealthy lifestyle. Lack of serotonin leads to depression, mood swings and… lack of sleep – this last one mainly because melatonin cannot be made without serotonin! While the link between serotonin and depression continues to get published intensely (see this link for an interesting peer-reviewed opinion), let’s get back to our sleep problem.

There is a fundamental pattern in melatonin-making: daylight shuts it down! During the day melatonin levels are at all-time low. At night, however, the blood concentration peaks to its highest sending the brain’s nite-nite wish to every cell that is still awake. Melatonin will keep being made for the exact duration of the night. Its making will be weaned off in the morning and we will get-up ready for a wonderful coffee fragrance! What is absolutely stunning though is that the duration of melatonin secretion is directly proportional to the length of the night. This an essential detail of information! Mechanistically, the understanding of melatonin signaling gets intricated and I am not going to teach it here. But I want you to know that our body learns by repetition how long the night is and adjusts the making of melatonin accordingly. This is why we can travel across the globe, experience jet lag and get back in shape in less than a week. This is why we notice summer time versus winter time changes but can adapt in a few days with no problem. This is why we need coffee when we party late at night because otherwise, we cannot stay up as long as we want to. But what happens afterward? We have to sleep late, right? Yes, because there is a cycle that needs to continue its tour around the clock.

What do you think that happens if you work during dark every single day? Being a night shift worker or a long-distance flight attendant is such a case. What is their body doing? Simply catching-up with sleep is not enough. When your eyes see light – even if artificial light when you turn the lights on! – the melatonin production is shut off. If outside is dark, then – biologically speaking – your body knows that it needs to make melatonin. But it stops because the light is on in your office and it gets confused. This will happen again and again. In animals, simple seasonal light changes stop the making of gonadotropic hormones and this stops reproduction. The similar consequence will occur in humans. Melatonin is a valuable agent protecting human sperm from free radical damage. Melatonin is an important molecule for maintaining optimal reproductive physiology.

New York City – 2014

Another profound change induced by the lack of melatonin is insulin resistance and diabetes mellitus, as lack of melatonin leads to elevation of insulin. At the beginning, higher insulin levels cause hunger, then weight gain. The lack of sleep leads to tiredness which, in turn, leads to less and less activity and muscle loss. Before you know it, a chronic low inflammation installs throughout the body accommodating … cancer growth. It’s a terrible, horrible, vicious cycle that never ends UNLESS one stops everything and goes back to the basic normal life, the way it should be. I am kidding you not, people! The studies I linked for you to this post are peer-reviewed publications of the most recognized highest tier in science. I will give you one more hint: the fact that this scientific literature is available to everyone for free – instead of membership payment or pay-per-view – is the proof that it was found to be essential information for health and science. Just sayin’…

Melatonin hormone has many functions: it is an immunomodulator and has antiproliferative, antiangiogenic and oncostatic properties. This means that it can interfere with the tumorigenic process. I was saying earlier that long-term circadian rhythm disturbance leads to impaired melatonin making. It also leads to premature aging. In fact, the International Agency for Research on Cancer stated that “shiftwork that involves circadian disruption is probably carcinogenic to humans“. Folks, did you hear me? Let me repeat this louder:shiftwork that involves circadian disruption is probably carcinogenic to humans“!

“Nearly 20% of the working population in Europe and North America is engaged in shiftwork, which is most prevalent in the health-care, industrial, transportation, communications, and hospitality sectors: To date, most studies have focussed on breast cancer in nurses and flight attendants. Now more studies are needed to examine this potential risk in other professions and for other cancers,” noted Dr Cogliano, Head of the IARC Monographs Programme.

So, when a near-and-dear to my heart friend messages me asking what she can take to stop eating at night and lose weight, I have every right to skip a heartbeat – isn’t it? Knowing everything I told you above (frankly, quite a bit more than that), I suddenly see a chain of linked problems. Night eating is often a habit of high achievers. These individuals work through their meal-time and then overcompensate by eating at night. If dieting, the multiple food restrictions during the day typically overcompensate at night. In either case is a response to an alarm that the body sends to the brain. The circadian cycle is disrupted. The body knows the individual is not in the proper shape and form to procreate and pass healthy genes and activates the genes that will basically kill the body.

One of my life experiences that impacted me the most was when I went to pharmacy school and learned to “act problem-solving“. That very specifically said “problem-solving“, not “symptom-alleviating“. In the situation described it will be simple to say – that will not solve the problem, it will only delay the consequences! If the problem persists, then the situation will get worse. However, we do need to buy time in order to accommodate the needed lifestyle change. For up to 3 months, melatonin supplements (5 to 10mg may be more effective than 1 to 3mg daily) will improve the situation and give the body a much-needed break from lack of sleep, inflammation, hyperinsulinemia etc. I would certainly not recommend any combination with any herbals – such as Valerian. That product is an option for an after-party nap or a jet lag issue. For a chronically-installed circadian rhythm disruption is a no-no. Check out Dr. Alice’s Shop for my recommendation on selecting supplements. Melatonin supplements will be available shortly after receiving this post.

What should one do during these 1 to 3 months of taking melatonin supplements?

Froggy sleeps

  1. Stick with a very rigid schedule of waking up early in the morning. Wake-up every day at the same time and follow an identical morning routine until you are up and ready for the day.
  2. Have a big and healthy breakfast every morning.
  3. Schedule at least one – ideally two – intense workouts every single day at the same time. This is a very important part of the plan. Intense exercising produces and releases serotonin which is the precursor of melatonin making. Remember? The pineal gland cannot make melatonin without serotonin! Exercising will also increase your muscle fiber which will help you utilize more efficiently insulin. It will, in turn, decrease inflammation and turn around the diabetes development. Oh, and don’t smoke!!
  4. Eat lots of fibers and fewer carbs and fat. No milk, no butter, no sugar. If you suspect that your gut health would benefit from taking probiotics and prebiotics, check out my previous post about it. Fibers and a healthy gut will ensure that your body feels full and will stop hunger. Together with the more efficient use of insulin, hunger will eventually stop throughout the night.
  5. Take a long walk before dinner. This will teach your body that youCamping went to gather food, so you are a capable member of your tribe. Your genes will understand that you are worth keeping! Read “Diet Evolution” for more insights on this!
  6. After 3 months, cut your melatonin dose in half. After another month, try taking it only as needed and then discontinue the supplement altogether. Do keep up with the new healthy habits that you developed. You are now FREE! Explore the world, sleep in the nature every now and then!

Scroll down to see the melatonin options available to you on Amazon in your area. I hope you learned something new today. Spread the information to those you care about and stay in good health until next time!


Cohen PJ, Browning M. What has serotonin to do with depression? World Psychiatry 2015; 14(2):158-160.

Reiter RJ, Rosales-Corral SA, Manchester LC, Tan D-X. Peripheral reproductive organ health and melatonin: ready for prime time. Int J Mol Sci 2013; 14(4):7231-7272.

Fernando S, Rombauts L. Melatonin: shedding light on infertility? J Ovarian Res 2014;7:98

McMullan CJ, Schernhammer ES, Rimm EB, Hu FB, Forman JP. Melatonin secretion and the incidence of type 2 diabetes. JAMA 2013;309(13):1388-1396.

Peschke E, Bahr I, Muhlbauer E. Melatonin and pancreatic islets: interrelationships between melatonin, insulin, and glucagon. Int J Mol Sci 2013;14(4):6981-7015.

Where to get melatonin for yourself

For US Other Countries
CanadaAmazon Canada
FranceAmazon France
Germany – Not Available on Amazon Germany
ItalyAmazon Italy
SpainAmazon Spain
United Kingdom – Not Available on Amazon UK
CanadaAmazon Canada
France – Not Available on Amazon France
Germany – Not Available on Amazon Germany
ItalyAmazon Italy
SpainAmazon Spain
United KingdomAmazon UK
CanadaAmazon Canada
FranceAmazon France
Germany – Not Available on Amazon Germany
ItalyAmazon Italy
SpainAmazon Spain
United Kingdom – Not Available on Amazon UK

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Dr. Alice

I teach people how drugs work, when they are needed, and why. My expertise as a pharmacist and researcher allows me to determine whether taking or not taking a drug will pose any risk given all current circumstances that apply at this moment. Many times we don't know unless we try, but other many times walking the extra mile pays off giving in return more wonderful moments and more to give to others.

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