Melatonin and Meditation: What's the Link?
There are many scientifically proven effects of meditation. Some of the most interesting are the ones that involve your body chemistry. Meditation can truly stimulate hormones that are important for your health. Today, we’re going to focus specifically on the link between melatonin and meditation.
Besides the fact that it can help you achieve mental calmness and boost your energy levels, some studies show that regular meditation increases melatonin levels in your body. Melatonin is a hormone that helps your body regulate sleep. Your body sends more of it into your blood when you go to bed to improve the quality of your sleep.
Melatonin is produced by the amino acid tryptophan in the pineal gland. Centuries ago, people called this gland the “seat of the soul.” In many Eastern cultures, people direct the flow of energy to the pineal gland while they meditate.
What does research say about melatonin and meditation?
A research team at the University of Massachusetts studied the relationship between melatonin and meditation in 1995. This study provided some truly fascinating, important data about the link between the two.
The goal of their study was to see if there was a relationship between regular, conscious meditation and an increase of melatonin levels in the body. To do that, they collected urine samples from their subjects in the middle of the night to check for 6-sulfatoxymelatonin.
That chemical is a product of melatonin decomposition, which can give us precise information about blood melatonin levels. Previous studies had shown that melatonin is photosensitive, but this suggested that it may also be psychosensitive.
Melatonin and meditation
They discovered amazing things: people who meditated frequently had much higher melatonin levels than people who didn’t meditate.
A similar study found that practicing meditation right before bed boosted melatonin levels that night. It did not, however, boost melatonin levels the following nights if the person didn’t meditate. This suggests that you have to meditate regularly if you want it to boost your melatonin.
By studying physiological data while people were sleeping, they also got some valuable information. People who regularly meditated spent more time in deep wave sleep. They had stronger theta and alpha waves, and some delta activity in the background. They also found a higher quality REM sleep.
How does it work?
Meditation helps to regulate your hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis. In other words, it regulates your body’s cortisol and catecholamine levels. It has also been shown that meditation can increase your dehydroepiandrosterone, hormones such as the growth hormone, thyroid stimulants, prolactin, and, of course, melatonin.
Melatonin has a hypnotic effect because it inhibits your suprachiasmatic nucleus. It also has some antioxidant and immunomodulatory effects. Not only is it an important antioxidant, it also makes you feel pleasant, good.
Meditation also happens to be a good way to boost your concentration. This isn’t just due to its effect on your melatonin levels. It also has an impact on the precursors of melatonin, especially with things such as serotonin and noradrenaline. In addition, it slows down your liver’s metabolism and stimulates your pineal gland.
Melatonin and aging
Melatonin production tends to decrease as you get older. That decrease means that your sleep patterns will change as you age. As the years go by, your sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems have much lower activity levels.
That decrease activates the autonomic nervous system. The result is a decrease in the restorative properties of your time asleep. Meditating regularly, on the other hand, can reduce your autonomic nervous system’s activity while you’re asleep. Theta wave activity in the midline of your brain will also keep parasympathetic activity in check.
Based on all the studies and research we’ve mentioned here, you can definitely come to the conclusion that regular meditation (especially Vipassana meditation) has widespread benefits. It causes physiological changes very similar to the restorative, self-regulating functions of your sleep cycle.
If it’s true that meditation can help you modify your sleep quality, it’s a resource that can have a profound impact on your health and your mind and body’s homeostasis. It’s also a window for us to better understand our body’s sleep mechanisms and our conscious minds.