The quality of our sleep can have a serious effect on our health and how we age. Here’s how the natural sleep-aid melatonin helps to promote healthy aging.

Melatonin, also known as N-acetyl-5-methoxytryptamine, is a hormone produced by the pineal gland. It is involved in the regulation of circadian rhythm, including sleep-wake timing, blood pressure, seasonal reproduction and more.

Irregular circadian rhythms and poor sleep quality are associated with increased risks of cardiovascular, metabolic and cognitive diseases, as well poor quality of life and increased risk of premature death. As a medicine, it is used for the treatment of insomnia, but in recent years, it’s gained popularity as a supplement for helping to fight sleep deprivation and jet lag.

But can melatonin treatments also help improve the restorative value of sleep to promote healthy physical and mental aging? A review article in the British Journal of Pharmacology seems to suggest that, indeed, it may.

For example, melatonin has shown promise in treating problems related to the sleep-wake cycle, such as sleep disorders, shift work, blood pressure regulation (it usually decreases during the night) and Alzheimer’s disease. In fact, there is evidence that poor-quality sleep increases the build-up of beta-amyloid protein in the brain, one of the findings in Alzheimer’s.

The theory is that improved circadian rhythm and sleep-wake cycles lead to:

1.  Better blood pressure control and decreased cardiovascular risk (heart attack and stroke)

2. Decreased inflammation, now considered to be associated with numerous diseases including certain cancers, rheumatoid arthritis and atherosclerosis

3. Decreased periodontitis, shown to be associated with bacterial infections and other diseases, including heart disease, cancer, respiratory disease, osteoporosis and diabetes

4. Decreased seasonal allergies

5. Decreased production of beta-amyloid plaques, resulting in decreased risk of Alzheimer’s.

Circadian rhythms is a whole new area of research that may hold promise in improving our quality of life, decreasing our risk of dementia and even increasing how long we live. Stay tuned.