Melatonin is a pineal gland (small gland in the brain) hormone that helps regulate circadian rhythms (our natural daily cycle that regulates patterns of rest and activity), and influences sleep onset (how quickly we transition into sleep) and reproductive systems. Blood levels of melatonin are often undetectable during daylight, but rise sharply during darkness. It is also understood that as the body ages, there is a significant decrease in melatonin, which invariably coincides with a shift in patterns of rest and activity. Melatonin is a well known anti-oxidant, immune system modulator (improves the health of the immune system) and anti-cancer agent (female, long-term shift workers, have a higher risk of breast cancer, as melatonin is not secreted under fluorescent lighting).
Melatonin is of great interest to sports performance given its influence on body temperature and management of jet lag. It may also be of interest in cases of amenorrhoea (absence of menstrual bleeding, common in underweight sportswomen). It is suggested that as core body temperature declines sleepiness is induced. Melatonin has the potential to reduce body temperature, and for this reason, has been considered as an ergogenic aid in assisting athletes improve their quality of sleep. This is of particular importance to athletes who require sleep between a day-time heat and evening final. Yet, despite the foregoing points, studies investigating the supplementation of melatonin prior to exercise, failed to find a reduction in core body temperature and improved performance. Nonetheless, supplemental melatonin has been shown to reduce both objective and subjective markers of jet lag in athletes. It is suggested that, with increasing international travel, the use of supplemental melatonin can optimise recovery from jet lag and for this reason offer a signifcant performance advantage. It is unclear at this time whether the main action of melatonin, is hypnotic (sleep inducing) or chronobiotic (helps to reset the natural body clock to a new time zone).
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