Researchers reveal how melatonin helps you get some sleep

May 16, 2018, 21:20 IST | mid-day online desk

Melatonin has been used as a sleep drug for many years, but people didn't know how it worked, the lead author said

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Melatonin is a hormone known to promote sleep. But, have you ever wondered how melatonin helps to promote sleep? Researchers from the University of Missouri School of Medicine have discovered how melatonin suppresses the neurons in the brain that keeps you awake and alert. The findings of the study, which is published in the Journal of Pineal Research, could lead to new therapies for those who suffer from insomnia.

"We as a society are losing sleep because we are working too hard, and it's causing a variety of health concerns," said Mahesh Thakkar, lead author of the study. "We often don't even think about sleep or consider it important. However, there is nothing more important than sleep. We need to focus on therapies that can help you have quality sleep, not just sleep."

Using a mouse model, Thakkar's research found that melatonin infused in the brain at dark -- when the mice are awake and active -- increased sleep and reduced wakefulness by suppressing specific neurons that stimulate the brain to wake up.

Thakkar also discovered that blocking melatonin receptors in the brain at bedtime significantly increased wakefulness. The experiments singled out one receptor, MT1, as the mechanism via which melatonin acts to inhibit the specific orexin neurons that wake you up. This discovery could help lead to medications that target only the MT1 receptor instead of multiple receptors, which could lead to fewer side effects for those who take sleep-promoting drugs.

"Melatonin has been used as a sleep drug for many years, but people didn't know how it worked," Thakkar said. "Our research suggests that if you target the melatonin MT1 receptor, you will get the most sleep with minimal side effects."

(Edited by mid-day online desk, with inputs from PTI)

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