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How melatonin affects your sleep

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How melatonin affects your sleep

Do you have problems falling asleep or sleeping through the night? Do you feel unrested despite a long night's sleep? Do you feel like your sleep-wake rhythm is off? Or do you just want to learn more about your sleep, what happens during sleep and the sleep hormone melatonin?
Then you've come to the right place. This article is about sleep and melatonin.

What happens during sleep? What are the stages of sleep? What is melatonin? What is the circadian rhythm? These and similar questions are answered in the following article.

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Table of Contents

• How does our sleep progress - the stages of sleep
• Your ideal sleep duration
• Tips for a restful sleep
• Melatonin - the sleep hormone
• The circadian rhythm
• The most important answers to the questions about melatonin
• Bibliography

How does our sleep progress - the stages of sleep

There are five sleep stages in total, and we go through them several times every night. If we have a healthy sleep, the sleep stages follow each other undisturbed. The five sleep stages then result in a sleep cycle of about 90 minutes, which is repeated several times per night. How often depends on the individual sleep duration, but it can be said that we go through about four to six such sleep cycles per night. Within the sleep phases, we sleep to different depths and with varying degrees of restorativeness.

In addition, our sleep phases can be divided into REM phases and non-REM sleep. The abbreviation comes from English and stands for "rapid eye movement." In the REM phase of our sleep, rapid eye movements occur under the closed eyelids. Incorrectly, REM sleep is often referred to as the stage when you dream. In fact, you dream in all stages, but in REM sleep, dreams are often more vivid and we remember them better.

About 50 minutes are allotted to the falling asleep or light sleep phase. Deep sleep and the REM phase account for about 40 minutes of the sleep cycle, whereby the distribution of the 40 minutes varies depending on the time of day. Towards the morning you are more in the REM sleep phase, shortly after falling asleep more in the deep sleep phases.
The first phase of sleep
The first sleep phase is the so-called falling asleep phase (non-REM phase). It is the time when we fall asleep and a few minutes after that. Sleep in this phase is still very superficial and light. Our body relaxes more and more, attention is reduced, our muscle activity slows down, until finally we slowly drift off to sleep. Sometimes a feeling of falling or muscle twitching in the legs occurs during this phase. This can happen because the brain often comes to rest before the muscles do.

The second phase of sleep
The second sleep phase is the light sleep phase (non-REM phase). It accounts for about half of the total sleep. Here the body comes to rest even more. The body temperature drops slightly, breathing becomes deeper and more relaxed, and the pulse and heart rate slow down. Sleep is still superficial in this phase, so we can easily wake up due to external stimuli or disturbances. In this phase we begin to process the day and what we have experienced.
Deep sleep - third and fourth phase of sleep
The third and fourth sleep phases are deep sleep phases (non-REM phase). They are particularly crucial for our restful and healthy sleep and are divided into a phase of medium-deep sleep and a phase of very deep sleep.

The deep sleep phase is the most restful, both physically and psychologically, and therefore the most important of the sleep phases. We sleep very deeply, nothing can get us awake so quickly. If we are nevertheless awakened from it, we initially feel somewhat dazed and first have to find our way back to consciousness.

In this phase, sleepwalking and talking in our sleep may occur. We are deeply physically relaxed. Breathing and heart rates continue to slow, breath comes and goes rhythmically, muscle and brain activity are kept to a minimum, and body temperature remains lowered.
REM sleep - the fifth sleep phase
The fifth sleep phase is REM sleep. The deep sleep phase is followed by a short light sleep phase, which then transitions into the dream sleep phase. In the REM phase, we dream particularly intensively. In this phase, we primarily process emotional sensory impressions. Sleep is again somewhat lighter here.

The muscles are completely relaxed and almost completely motionless - except for the eye muscles. This is due to our body's natural protective mechanism that we do not actually perform the dreamed movements and could thus injure ourselves. In this phase, the brain frequency increases significantly, this is possibly due to processing emotions. The heart rate increases, we breathe fast and shallow.

The sleep cycles
The first of our sleep cycles is characterized by a particularly long deep sleep phase, which can last up to an hour, and a short REM phase, which lasts about 10 minutes. This ratio reverses over the course of the night, so that the deep sleep phases become shorter and the REM phases longer from cycle to cycle. Thus, from the third cycle onwards, we have almost no deep sleep phases and all the longer REM phases.

It is completely normal to be awake for a few minutes within the sleep phases. On average, adults wake up briefly 10-30 times per night. If you then fall asleep again within 2-3 minutes, your natural sleep rhythm is not disturbed and you don't remember waking up in the morning.

In the case of sleep disorders, however, things look different. Here, the sleep rhythm gets confused and the five sleep phases no longer follow each other undisturbed. Constant waking leads, among other things, to significant losses in deep sleep. Sleep becomes less restorative and the glymphatic system, which removes waste products from the brain, cannot work undisturbed.

Your ideal sleep duration

The ideal length of sleep depends on the age of the person. For example, newborns between 0 and 3 months need the most sleep, between 14 and 17 hours. Infants aged 4 to 11 months need 12 to 15 hours. The ideal amount of sleep for infants from 12 months to 2 years is 11 to 14 hours. Children ages 3 to 5 typically need 10 to 13 hours of sleep, and school-age children ages 6 to 13 need 9 to 11 hours.

Teenagers from 14 to 17 get by on 8 to 10 hours of sleep. Young adults ages 18 to 25 will do fine on 7 to 9 hours. For adults between 26 and 65, 7 to 9 hours is considered ideal, with a minimum of 6 hours. After retirement age, the need for sleep decreases again. Some seniors aged 65 and older only need 5 to 6 hours of sleep, while others like to nap for up to 9 hours.

Tips for a restful sleep

Restful sleep is just as important (if not more important) to you as healthy eating or exercise.

Some tips for restful sleep are:

• Alcohol and caffeine disturb a healthy sleep, likewise black and green tea make you awake in the evening
• Electronic devices should be banned from the bedroom, if possible, as they can also disrupt healthy sleep • A regular, evening ritual before bedtime can help support healthy sleep
• The temperature, light and noise in the bedroom should be regulated
• Going to bed and getting up at approximately the same time every day, as this can regulate the internal clock and thus the sleep rhythm
• Mattress and pillow should be comfortable - here it depends on personal preference whether the bed, or the base, is rather hard or soft
• Sufficient exercise throughout the day promotes a good night's sleep

For more tips, check out this article with 10 tips for healthy sleep.

Melatonin - the sleep hormone

Melatonin is known as the sleep and night hormone. It is produced in particular in the pineal gland, or epiphysis, a tiny gland in the brain from serotonin. During the day, levels of the happiness hormone serotonin rise, and in the evening serotonin is increasingly converted to melatonin. Thus, darkness promotes the production of the hormone in the pineal gland, while light inhibits its production. The pineal gland is connected to the light sensors of the eye and therefore knows well about external light conditions.

Melatonin has even more going for it. It is a powerful antioxidant and can help protect against oxidative stress in the body1.

The formation of melatonin via serotonin takes place by means of the precursor tryptophan. This is an essential amino acid from which your sleep hormone is formed via several intermediate steps. A number of cofactors are needed for this, including B vitamins, magnesium and zinc. If these or L-tryptophan are missing, serotonin and subsequently melatonin may be deficient.

The circadian rhythm

The circadian rhythm describes processes in the body that occur over a 24-hour period and then repeat themselves. It could also be called the internal clock. It also determines which hormones are released and when. These hormones regulate the immune system, blood pressure and mental performance, among other things. The sleep-wake rhythm is the most important of these cycles.

The main role of melatonin is to regulate the sleep-wake rhythm. In the evening, the melatonin level rises so that you become tired. In the morning, it drops again so that you can become awake and fit. If this balance is disturbed, this can have unpleasant consequences such as sleep disorders and daytime tiredness.

Melatonin works closely with cortisol, also known as the wakefulness and stress hormone from the adrenal glands. When it gets dark, the pineal gland releases melatonin into the bloodstream and you get tired. The concentration of melatonin in the blood continues to rise until well after midnight, much more so in younger people than in older ones.

The closer it gets to morning, the less melatonin is released and at the same time more cortisol is released into the blood. A peak of cortisol in the morning ensures that we wake up. As the day progresses, cortisol levels drop again, melatonin rises and sleep is induced. Melatonin is specifically responsible for promoting the falling asleep phase and getting you into the deep sleep phase faster. During this phase, the glymphatic system also becomes more active. Glymphatic? This is a system for cleansing your brain cells of metabolic waste.
The better the production of melatonin works, the more restful and deeper you sleep.

A melatonin deficiency can show itself through the following symptoms, among others:
• Sleep disorders, such as difficulty falling asleep or sleeping through the night
• Light sleep from which you often wake up
• Dreamless sleep
• Depression

Currently, it is still being investigated whether melatonin can help with diseases such as Alzheimer's, cancer, ALS and high blood pressure at night.

The most important answers to the questions about melatonin

What does melatonin do?
Melatonin helps shorten the time it takes to fall asleep and also helps alleviate the subjective jet lag sensation.

How can I have my melatonin level measured?
The individual value can be measured in blood, saliva or urine. There are also test kits for home use that can be performed independently. A urine test with the second morning urine is the most reliable, as longer-term levels are visible here.

Is melatonin addictive?
Melatonin does not cause dependence or habituation effects according to previous research2. Thus, it has an advantage over classical sleep aids. In addition, no "hangover" with dizziness and nausea is to be expected in the morning.
It should be noted, however, that melatonin is not a sleeping pill, but a sleep aid intended to regulate sleep. It can be used flexibly, dosed as required and adapted to individual needs.

Does melatonin have side effects?
As with any preparation, each person reacts differently. One person may tolerate melatonin well, while the other prefers to leave it out. Using melatonin can cause side effects such as mood swings, headaches, fatigue, and morning tiredness, but overall melatonin is considered to have few side effects3.
The proof of the pudding is in the eating. If you notice that any of the symptoms are occurring, melatonin may not be right for you.

Does melatonin interact with medications?
To avoid drug interactions, you should not take melatonin together with antiepileptic drugs, antidepressants or anticoagulants. In addition, it should not be taken during pregnancy and breastfeeding, as there is no reliable data on this.

Does melatonin require a prescription?
Melatonin is not available by prescription at a dose of 1 mg a day.

How and when do I take melatonin?
You can easily take the sleep hormone with the help of capsules. One of our NEUROnight capsules contains 1 mg of melatonin and 6 different plant extracts, including hops, passionflower and lavender. Add to that a small serving of L-tryptophan and some vitamin B6 and you're ready for your good night's sleep!


1 Reiter, R. J., Mayo, J. C., Tan, D. X., Sainz, R. M., Alatorre-Jimenez, M., & Qin, L. (2016). Melatonin as an antioxidant: under promises but over delivers. Journal of pineal research, 61(3), 253–278.

2 Lemoine, P., Nir, T., Laudon, M., & Zisapel, N. (2007). Prolonged-release melatonin improves sleep quality and morning alertness in insomnia patients aged 55 years and older and has no withdrawal effects. Journal of sleep research, 16(4), 372–380.

3 Xie, Z., Chen, F., Li, W. A., Geng, X., Li, C., Meng, X., Feng, Y., Liu, W., & Yu, F. (2017). A review of sleep disorders and melatonin. Neurological research, 39(6), 559–565.