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The pineal gland that is positioned in the brain produces the hormone melatonin (Blask, 2009). Melatonin plays a significant role in the circadian control of sleep as well as in restraining the development of malignant cells. In addition, melatonin improves the performance of the immune system (Blask, 2009). This paper is a patient education material on the role of melatonin in determining the sleep-wake patterns.
Melatonin and Sleep
The human body undergoes regular cycles every twenty-four hours. These cycles, which entail sleep, secretion of certain hormones and regulation of body temperature, are referred to as circadian cycles. The suprachiasmatic nucleus in the hypothalamus contains a rhythm-creating system that regulates the secretion of melatonin (Jarvis, Russell & Gorman, 2004). Melatonin, which works as a night indicator, also controls this system.
As darkness approaches, the pineal gland starts to secrete melatonin. The quantity of melatonin secreted increases as the darkness intensifies. Melatonin then sends a signal to the brain region that is responsible for the control of the sleep-wake cycle. Consequently, the brain responds by causing sleep.
In the morning, the quantity of melatonin in the blood and in the brain reduces significantly thereby causing one to be awake. Contact of the eyes with light also diminishes the concentration of the hormone in the blood.
Regulation of Melatonin
Light and darkness are the key regulators of melatonin levels. Factors such as jet-lag (traveling to different time zones), working late at night and irregular sleep hours affect the secretion of melatonin and subsequently alter the sleep-wake cycle. Although melatonin is secreted naturally, synthetic melatonin is readily and can be used to improve sleep outcomes in people with sleep disorders (Franco, 2008).
The sleep-wake cycle is important as it allows the body to have adequate rest. Therefore, we ought to ensure that we have sufficient hours of sleep to ensure the overall well-being of our bodies.
Blask, D. E. (2009). Melatonin, sleep disturbance and cancer risk. Sleep Medicine Reviews, 13(4), 257-264.
Franco, R. (2008). Melatonin. Web.
Jarvis, M., Russell, J., & Gorman, P. (2004). Angles of psychology (2nd ed.). United Kingdom: Nelson Thornes.