Experts recommend that adults sleep at least 7 hours every night. Unfortunately, a lot of people don’t meet up with this requirement as they struggle with falling or staying asleep. Many people in this category have insomnia, the most common sleep disorder known to man. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), such people made up more than ¼ of the American adult population as of 2020.
From sleep hygiene to healthy dieting, mindfulness, yoga, physical activity, and therapeutic approaches, there are many recommended coping strategies for insomnia. However, the one that seems to be gaining the most attention recently is melatonin supplements. The brain produces melatonin in response to darkness, and the supplements help to increase the levels of melatonin hormones in the bloodstream. Taking these supplements helps to regulate the body’s circadian rhythm (sleep-wake cycle) by sending signals to the body that it’s time to take a nap.
However, more than just helping to manage insomnia, new findings show that melatonin may also have memory-enhancing effects. The study was motivated by concerns that melatonin could be harmful to the brain after some users felt groggy when they woke up. Furthermore, research from Japan also indicates that these advantages can be noticed on a microscopic scale.
Tokyo’s Sophia University scientists critically examined melatonin, N1-acetyl-5-methoxyquinuramine (AMK), melatonin’s biological metabolite, and ramelteon, with the aim of determining their effects on memory function. While AMK biologically metabolizes melatonin, ramelteon activates and binds the melanin receptor. The results showed that melatonin and its derivatives were able to trigger microscopic changes in mouse brains.
Since phosphorylation is necessary for forming both short and long-term memories, the researchers also included protein extracellular signal-regulated kinase (ERK), calcium/calmodulin-dependent kinase IIα (CaMKIIα), CaMKIIβ, CaMKIV, and the cAMP-response element binding protein (CREB), in their study.
In the words of Atsuhiko Chiba, the study’s lead author, “Our study aimed to investigate the effects of melatonin, ramelteon, and N1-acetyl-5-methoxyquinuramine (AMK) on the relative phosphorylation levels of memory-related proteins in order to explore candidate signaling pathways associated with the receptor- and nonreceptor-mediated memory-enhancing effects of melatonin.”
Speaking on the result of the study, he said it suggests that “melatonin is involved in promoting the formation of long-term object recognition memory by modulating the phosphorylation levels of memory-related proteins such as ERK, CaMKIIs, and CREB in both receptor-mediated and nonreceptor-mediated signaling pathways.”
In other words, melatonin plays a significant role in improving or creating long-term memory. This is good news for the older population as their memories generally decline as they age. The team believes that further research may lead to the formulation of melatonin-based treatments for people with age-related memory concerns.
An article published on the “Clinical Aspects of Melatonin Intervention in Alzheimer’s Disease Progression” in PubMed Central agrees with the need for further study on this subject. “Although there is evidence to postulate melatonin as a useful ad-on therapeutic tool in MCI, larger double-blind multicenter studies are urgently needed to further explore and investigate the potential and usefulness of melatonin as an antidementia drug. Its apparent usefulness in symptomatic treatment, concerning sleep, sundowning or cognitive impairment, even in a progressed state, further underlines the need for such decisive studies,” it reads.