Melatonin Rhythm, Melatonin Actions and Melatonin Benefits

Hello, I'm Dr. Catherine Darley. Today, we’ll explore the fascinating world of melatonin and its role in our biorhythms. This article will guide you through the melatonin mechanism of action, its impact on our bodies, and answer the question, "Is melatonin safe for kids?"

The Natural Rhythm of Melatonin

Melatonin, known as the "Hormone of Darkness," is produced by the pineal gland in response to darkness. As evening approaches, your eyes perceive the changing light, and signals to the brain that it’s time for the pineal gland to produce melatonin. This process starts with the setting sun, even before it’s fully dark. Melatonin levels then rise, peaking in the middle of the night, and gradually decline towards morning. When you wake up your melatonin levels are still somewhat elevated. Opening your eyes, opening the shades, and getting sunlight, suppresses melatonin production. Melatonin levels are then very low throughout the day. Learn more about your body's intrinsic melatonin rhythm here.

Melatonin’s Mechanisms of Action

Melatonin has several crucial functions. The one that most commonly comes to mind is it’s role in sleep. However, melatonin has many actions beyond sleep too. Here’s a quick summary:

Inducing Sleep: When melatonin production begins, it first circulates around the brain, making us drowsy. It also drops our core body temperature, another signal that it’s time for sleep.

Systemic Effects: Melatonin then enters the bloodstream, and travels throughout the body, binding to receptors on cells. This is a circadian cue, which signals the body to shift into nighttime physiology, a more restful state, and part of the essential restoration that happens at night.

Antioxidant Properties: At the cellular level, melatonin is a powerful antioxidant, combating oxidative stress and protecting cells from damage. We need antioxidants for healthy aging.

Anti-Inflammatory Effects: It has anti-inflammatory properties, contributing to overall health and well-being. Many chronic diseases have a component of inflammation, so keeping inflammation in healthy, low, ranges is important.

Neuroprotection: Melatonin helps protect the brain, supporting cognitive function and neurological health.

Bone Health: It plays a role in maintaining bone density and strength. Bones are constantly re-forming, and melatonin is part of this process.

Immune Support: Melatonin also boosts the immune system, helping to defend against illnesses. Some research has shown melatonin is helpful as part of a comprehensive plan to fight viral illness.

Changes in Melatonin Over the Lifespan

Melatonin levels are highest in children. During puberty, these levels drop by about 40%. Then again around age 50, melatonin levels decline further, leading to significantly lower levels in older adults. This natural decrease is a normal part of aging but can affect sleep quality and overall health. A new term “melatonipause” has recently been introduced, similar to menopause or andropause. It will be interesting to see over the next decades if a low dose of melatonin begins to be recommended after age 50 to bring levels up to what they are in earlier life.

Is Melatonin Safe for Kids?

Parents often wonder if melatonin is safe for children. Generally, melatonin is not recommended for children unless they have Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, or Autism. In children without these disorders it’s unlikely that their sleep problem is due to low melatonin levels. There are other recommended treatments for children who have sleep difficulty. Understanding the natural biorhythms of children and ensuring they follow a consistent sleep schedule is typically the best approach to promote healthy sleep.

Recently, with the widespread use of melatonin gummies, there’s been some cases of children taking too much melatonin, and needing urgent care. Gummies can seem like candy to children, plus often have food dyes and other ingredients that are not healthy. Consult with your licensed healthcare provider before starting any supplementation.

Understanding Biorhythms

Biorhythms are the natural cycles that regulate various bodily functions, including sleep. Melatonin plays a key role in synchronizing these cycles with the day-night pattern. Disruptions to these biorhythms, such as exposure to artificial light at night or irregular sleep schedules, can negatively impact melatonin production and overall health.

Optimizing Melatonin Production

Optimizing melatonin production through good sleep hygiene and natural light exposure can significantly enhance sleep quality. Ensuring a dark environment at night and seeking natural light in the morning helps regulate melatonin production, supporting better sleep and overall health. 

The Role of Quantum Biology in Melatonin Production

Quantum biology is an emerging field that studies how quantum phenomena influence biological processes, including melatonin production. Understanding the interaction between light and our biological systems at the quantum level can provide deeper insights into how our bodies regulate sleep and other functions. This scientific perspective underscores the importance of natural light-dark cycles in maintaining our health.

Practical Steps for Enhancing Melatonin Production

Morning Sunlight Exposure: Spend 20 minutes outdoors in the first two hours of your day to receive natural blue light, which helps regulate your circadian rhythm. If natural sunlight is not available, another option is to use a light therapy lamp to simulate morning light. There are some medical conditions in which light therapy lamps are not recommended, so check with your physician before using one.

Evening Light Management: Reduce exposure to artificial light in the evening, particularly blue light from screens and devices. The recommendation is to be in light that is less than 10 lux, for three hours before bed. Use dim, warm-colored lights that mimic sunset light to help signal to your body that it’s time to wind down.

Creating a Dark Sleep Environment: Ensure your bedroom is completely dark during the night. Use blackout curtains, cover electronic light sources, and consider wearing an eye mask to block out any residual light. Darkness at night is essential for maintaining high melatonin levels and promoting restful sleep.

Circadian vs. IES Recommended Lighting Levels

The Illuminating Engineering Society (IES) provides guidelines for optimal lighting levels. These are widely known, and used by builders. There are also lighting guidelines written by medical experts to improve our sleep and circadian health, in large part by supporting our natural melatonin rhythm. These are the recommendations:

Daytime: Aim for 250 lux of bright light that includes blue light. This level of light exposure is crucial for maintaining alertness and regulating your sleep-wake cycle.

Evening: For the three hours before bed, reduce light levels to 10 lux or less, avoiding blue light. This helps prepare your body for sleep by signaling the transition to nighttime, and allowing your melatonin levels to start to rise.

Nighttime: During sleep, ensure light levels are less than 1 lux. If you need to move around at night, try to keep light exposure to less than 10 lux, to avoid disrupting your sleep. Even a few minutes of brighter light (such as turning the light on in the bathroom in the middle of the night) can suppress our melatonin somewhat.

Understanding the Importance of Light and Darkness

Light and darkness play a fundamental role in regulating our biorhythms and overall health. Exposure to natural light during the day and minimizing artificial light at night can help optimize melatonin production and support healthy sleep patterns. These practices are not only beneficial for adults but are also crucial for children and older adults whose melatonin levels naturally fluctuate.


Thank you for joining me today. I hope this exploration of melatonin physiology and biorhythms has provided valuable insights into how you can optimize your sleep and overall health. By understanding and respecting our natural biorhythms, we can take meaningful steps towards better health and well-being. Embracing the principles of quantum biology and following IES recommended lighting levels can help us align our daily routines with the natural light-dark cycles, promoting optimal melatonin production and enhancing our sleep quality.

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About the Author: Dr. Catherine Darley

Dr. Catherine Darley is a pioneering internationally recognized expert in the use of natural, behavioral and lifestyle medicine for the treatment of sleep disorders. Dr. Darley founded the Institute of Naturopathic Sleep Medicine to fill the need for natural, less invasive solutions to a common problem–poor sleep.  

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