It’s safe to say that we have all been stressed at some point.
Whatever kind of stress that we have felt, it made it difficult to stay asleep or even go to sleep.
Well, it turns out that by supplementing with melatonin, not only will it be MUCH easier for you to fall and stay asleep, but you may also be able to use melatonin as a natural stress reliever.
In this article, we’ll tell you all about the close connection between melatonin, sleep, and stress, and how melatonin affects both.
The question that comes to mind first is:
What Is Stress?
Stress could be defined as a sequence of events that consists of a stimulus, otherwise known as a stressor, that causes a brain reaction called stress perception. This reaction activates fight-or-flight systems, which is the body’s stress response. The stress response results in the release of neurotransmitters and hormones, which is how the brain sends alarm signals to the various parts of the body.
According to the American Psychological Association, two out of every three Americans experience stress.
Isn’t that unbelievable?
Stress can be short-term, called acute stress, or long-term, called chronic stress.
What makes them different?
Well, acute stress is defined as stress that lasts anywhere from several minutes to hours. Chronic stress is defined as stress that lasts for several hours daily for a period of weeks or months.
But you know what else?
Acute stress may become a psychiatric disorder. According to the DSM-5, or the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, acute stress disorder is diagnosed if your stress persists for at least three days up to one month after a traumatic event. The stress caused by your trauma causes clinically significant impairment in your social, occupational, and psychological functioning.
You also must have at least nine out of 14 symptoms including, but not limited to:
- Repeated, involuntary, and distressing memories, dreams, and/or flashbacks related to the trauma
- Intense or prolonged distress or physiological reactions to cues that symbolize or resemble something related to the trauma
- Persistent negative mood
- Attempting to avoid anything and everything that reminds you of the trauma
- Sleep disturbances, irritable behavior and angry outbursts, exaggerated startle response to stimuli, etc.
You may be wondering, How does the body react to stress?
Fight-or-flight systems drive the stress response to acute stress; the HPA axis drives the stress response to chronic stress.
Stress intensity can be measured by several different parameters, including:
- The peak levels of stress hormones, such as cortisol
- Physiological changes such as increases in heart and blood pressure, and
- The amount of time for which these physiological changes last during and after stress.
The HPA axis increases the production of steroid hormones called glucocorticoids, including cortisol, which is commonly called the “stress hormone.” Usually, cortisol levels will increase after waking up and gradually decrease over the day, which provides an energy cycle to fuel the body throughout the day.
Whenever you experience a stressor, cortisol levels will increase to provide your body the necessary energy to deal with the challenging situation. Now that we’ve established what stress is, it’s time to dive into melatonin:
What Is Melatonin?
Melatonin is known as the “sleep hormone.”
It is produced by the pineal gland, located in the center of the brain. Although inactive during the daytime for most people, it actively starts producing melatonin during the nighttime, while in darkness. From there, melatonin is gradually released into the bloodstream. Countless studies have shown that melatonin has many sleep benefits:
- Puts you into a state of drowsiness to get you ready for sleep
- Helps you fall asleep quicker
- Extends your total sleep duration
- Enriches your overall sleep quality
- Enhances your alertness in the morning
- Helps sleep issues caused by insomnia or jet lag
During a normal night of sleep, blood levels of melatonin will stay higher between the hours of 9 PM – 9 AM for a period of about 12 hours. As the sun rises and daylight comes, the pineal gland will become inactive, and the blood levels of melatonin will decrease to a point that they are barely detectable.
How Melatonin Improves Your Sleep and Relieves Stress?
The relationship between stress and sleep goes both ways. According to the American Psychological Association’s Stress in America: The State of Our Nation 2017 survey, 45% of Americans were reported to have stayed awake at night for the past month due to stress. In the 2013 edition of the survey, 21% of adults who do not get enough sleep reported that they feel more stressed. 45% of adults reported feeling even more stressed if they did not get enough sleep.
Clearly, there is a close, deep relationship between stress and sleep that needs further examination. In order to understand the connection between sleep, melatonin and cortisol, we must first look at the sleep process in greater detail.
- NREM (Non-Rapid Eye Movement) Sleep – collectively includes Stages 1-3
- REM (Rapid Eye Movement) Sleep – Stage 4
Stage 3 of NREM Sleep is the deepest stage of sleep, called slow wave sleep due to the slow delta brain waves that occur during this stage. Slow wave sleep initially lasts for 45-90 minutes. As sleep cycles through its different stages during the night, Stage 3 of NREM sleep will become shorter and shorter throughout the night.
Some researchers believe that slow wave sleep is crucial to the restoration and recovery of the cerebrum of the human brain. The cerebrum is the largest part of the human brain and is linked to higher brain function such as thought and action. These researchers also believe that slow wave sleep is involved in sleep maintenance, as well as memory consolidation.
This process describes the movement from short-term memory to long-term memory, and the update of beliefs and general knowledge with new learning.
Trauma and Memory
So, you may be wondering: How does this relate to stress?
Well, traumatic events are processed and consolidated into memories differently than other more routine events. For a memory to be properly consolidated, the signal intensity of that memory needs to be synchronized on an emotional and cognitive level. Traumatic events may cause over-potentiation of synapses in the amygdala.
Let us explain:
Synapses are structures that allow nerve cells to transmit signals to each other. The amygdala is a set of nerve cells in the brain that is responsible for emotional processing.
What does this mean?
Events that are traumatic in nature overwhelm the amygdala and make it hyper-responsive in order to try to process those traumas. The memories of those traumatic events become fragmented and non-processed, and are trapped in either the amygdala or the hippocampus, which is responsible for forming new memories.
There is no context to integrate these episodic and traumatic memories, which is required to encode them into your long-term memory. Because of that, these memories will persist for long periods of time, sometimes for life, which may lead to the development of trauma-related disorders, including posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Sleep and Trauma
Here’s the main idea:
Sleep is INCREDIBLY important to helping you process traumatic events and experiences. A team of researchers from the Department of Psychology at the University of Zurich and the Psychiatric University Hospital Zurich conducted a study whether sleep during the first 24 hours after a trauma positively affects emotional distress and memories related to that event. What makes this important is that these researchers hypothesized that sleep could help prevent trauma-related disorders, such as posttraumatic stress disorder.
The subjects of this study were shown a traumatic video and had recurring memories of images in that video that haunted them for a few days, documented in detail in a diary. Out of nowhere, these subjects would see mental images of what they saw in the video, which caused them to re-experience their distressing feelings and thoughts from their original viewing.
This was done to simulate the memories of patients with PTSD. In this case, though, those experimentally induced traumatic memories would disappear after only a few days. One group of subjects went to sleep after having watched the video and their sleep was monitored and recorded through EEG; the other group stayed awake.
So, what were the results of this study?
The group of participants that went to sleep after having watched the video were observed to have fewer and less distressing recurring emotional memories than the group who stayed awake. This indicates that sleep may have beneficial effects in the aftermath of traumatic events.
Let’s take a closer look:
One way that sleep helps you deal with trauma is by aiding in weakening emotions such as fear, which are caused by traumatic events. Additionally, sleep reduces the frequency of intrusive trauma memories. The decrease in the frequency and emotional distress of intrusive trauma memories may reduce the burden of trauma-related disorders such as PTSD on individual survivors, and society at large.
Over the course of several nights, sleep also helps contextualize your traumatic recollections, process the information, and store them as a part of your long-term memory. Many researchers thus believe that sleep may be a unique, non-pharmacological means of helping treat trauma survivors who are at risk for developing chronic PTSD, during the early aftermath of their trauma.
The Relationship between Melatonin & Cortisol
Research has shown that cortisol levels will be at their lowest around midnight. They will start to increase two to three hours after you go to sleep, and gradually increase throughout the night as you wake up. This shows an inverse relationship between the production and release of melatonin and cortisol:
- As the levels of melatonin in the body increases, the levels of cortisol in the body decreases
- As the levels of melatonin in the body decreases, the levels of cortisol in the body increases
The two must remain in balance in order to ensure quality sleep. Melatonin may be a natural stress reliever because of its antioxidant properties. Anxiety increases oxidative stress, which leads to an increased production of melatonin to effectively protect the body from oxidative stress.
Additionally, while its levels in the body remain elevated while sleeping, the antioxidant properties of melatonin helps the body detox and get rid of its stressors.
Besides its sleep-promoting and antioxidant effects, melatonin also helps deal with stress on a physiological level. Body temperature, blood pressure, and hormone levels all increase during the body’s stress response. Melatonin serves an important role in the regulation of these physiological factors, which helps the body relieve its stress.
How to Increase Your Blood Levels of Melatonin?
You might be wondering by now how you can increase your body’s levels of melatonin. Well, in general, the amount of melatonin that your pineal gland produces and secretes during the nighttime is determined, in part, by your age. As you get older, lower levels of melatonin will be produced and released. Children will usually have higher blood levels of melatonin than adults. Researchers attribute this to the occasional sleep disruptions that older adults may experience. Lower blood levels of the hormone may jeopardize the stimulus for falling and staying asleep, and experiencing a restful, energizing sleep.
What other factors may affect your levels of melatonin? The use of caffeine, alcohol, or tobacco may negatively impact your blood levels of melatonin. People who work the night shift and people with poor vision may also be at risk of having lower than normal melatonin levels. Exposure to natural light and exercise during the daytime also help promote higher levels of melatonin in the nighttime.
15 Amazing Food Sources of Melatonin:
- Tart Cherries
- Malbec Grapes
- Bell and Chili Peppers
- Saffron Milk Cap Mushrooms
- Porcini Mushrooms
Liposomal Melatonin Supplements
If you are looking for ways to increase your melatonin blood levels, you should consider a melatonin supplement.
More specifically, you may want to do some research on Liposomal Melatonin Technology. Liposomal Technology uses micro sized fluid filled liposomes to protect and deliver nutrients directly into the cells and tissues of the body.
These liposomes are very similar to human cells, which makes it easier for them to be transported within the body. As a result, nutrient absorption is greatly increased, and there is less intestinal discomfort than with using standard oral supplements.
- Micro-sized encapsulation that protects against the harsh acidity of the gastrointestinal tract
- Increased delivery to cells, tissues, and organs
- Higher absorption rates and bioavailability than other standard oral supplements
- Noninvasive compared to intravenous supplementation
- Lower doses provide the same effects as high-dose standard oral supplements
- Helps put nutrients to use by the body faster
- Prevents gastrointestinal distress usually experienced with standard oral supplements
Clearly, liposomal melatonin supplement deserves serious consideration for its potential to provide stress relief.
Why You Should Supplement Melatonin for Improved Stress Relief
Melatonin has been shown to both directly and indirectly relieve stress. The direct effect comes from its antioxidant properties and regulation of physiological factors. The indirect effect comes from melatonin balancing the levels of cortisol for better sleep quality.
Sleep is crucial as a time when the body and brain detox and deal with stress, and helps decrease the frequency and emotional distress of traumatic memories and encode them into long-term memory.