Melatonin… Circadian or EEG related?
(This piece is somewhat redundant in terms of the general theme of Q4LT. The reason for putting it up is to attempt to succinctly showcase the effects of hormonal fluctuation that coincide with EEG changes and vice versa. After conversing with many people regarding various topics on the site, it seems as though clarification is still necessary.)
It is considered general consensus in the scientific community that the hormone/neurotransmitter melatonin is involved in the synchronization of a person’s circadian rhythm. These rhythms are based on physical, mental and behavioral changes that generally follow a 24-hour cycle with responses to light and darkness in the environment. Elevated melatonin levels have long been cited to concur with darkness while suppressed melatonin levels have been attributed to light exposure.
Based on hundreds of studies over the past few decades, it’s been verified that melatonin levels in serum, saliva, and urine definitively increase at night. The question is whether there are other factors involved outside of simply the light/dark equation regarding melatonin surges.
(Figure 1. from Sleep Medicine Clinics)
It is Q4LT’s theory that elevated melatonin levels correlate just as much with an increase in slow wave EEG formation than it does simply with light/dark cycles. Slow EEG waves appear to correlate with deep relaxation while faster EEG waves appear to correlate with greater amounts of mental stimulation and focus. It is deemed logical to assume that darkness would provide significantly less visual stimulation for the brain leading to greater slow wave formation.
The question then continues… if a person is able to induce these slow waves during the daytime while in direct sunlight or in a fully lighted office, what would be the effect on melatonin levels? Unfortunately, it seems as though there are only periphery studies regarding this. It’s been observed in EEG related studies that meditation, listening to relaxing music, and hypnosis all coincide with increases in slow wave (theta) formation. From a different perspective, a 1996 study in Neuroscience Letters would observe increased theta wave formation from oral melatonin administration.
The following papers observe an increase in melatonin from meditation, music, and simply closing your eyes:
Meditation, Melatonin and Breast/Prostate Cancer: Hypothesis and Preliminary Data*- Medical Hypotheses (1995)
Acute Increases in Night-time Plasma Melatonin Levels following a Period of Meditation - Biological Psychology (2000)
Effects of Hatha Yoga and Omkar Meditation on Cardiorespiratory Performance, Psychologic Profile, and Melatonin Secretion - The Journal of Alternative and Complimentary Medicine (2004)
Detection of Nighttime Melatonin Level in Chinese Original Quiet Sitting - Journal of the Formosan Medical Association (2010)
Diaphragmatic Breathing Reduces Exercise-Induced Oxidative Stress - Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine (2011)
Music therapy increases serum melatonin levels in patients with Alzheimer’s disease - Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine (1999)
Non-invasive evaluation of the effects of opening & closing of eyes, and of exposure to a minute light beam, as well as to electrical or magnetic field on the melatonin, serotonin, & other neuro-transmitters of human pineal gland representation areas & the heart. - Acupuncture and Electo-Therapeutics Research (1993)
For whatever reason, I have yet to come across one study that has focused on measuring melatonin levels during hypnotherapy sessions. I believe there is much overlap in terms of internal physiology & EEG states when comparing meditative states and hypnotic states. The only potentially related study regarding the physiological changes from hypnosis was a 1991 study in the American Journal of Hypnosis showcasing a significant increase in noradrenaline levels in hypnotized patients versus controls.
(A hard copy version of the articles on this site have been compiled in a book titled “Questions for the Lion Tamer”. It’s for sale on Amazon for $19.99)
We’ve proposed the following 2 studies in order to test whether brain wave activity has a definitive effect on melatonin production. EEG and melatonin blood/salivary samples would be taken in each study.
“Dark Room” Study
This study would comprise of incorporating 3 different scenarios. The first scenario would be where the subject(s) sits upright in a chair in a “pitch black” room for 30 minutes at a designated time in complete silence. The next day the same subject(s) would sit in the same chair for the same amount of time but instead would be subjected to disruptive noises that could only be described as “horrific” and loud sounds. The third scenario would be the exact same as the prior two but instead of “horrific” and loud sounds, they would be exposed to “soothing” music and sounds. All subjects would be exposed to each scenario twice on one day at 11am and 5pm. Blood and saliva samples would be taken every 10 minutes prior to the “dark room” exposure for 30 minutes (3X), every 10 minutes during the “dark room” exposure (3X) and every 10 minutes after having exited the dark room exposure (3X). EEG measurement would be taken throughout the 90 minute experimental session.
Hypothesis: Melatonin levels would decrease from the “horrific” and loud sounds disturbing their ability to relax coinciding with less robust slow wave formation. Melatonin levels would increase from the “soothing” music and sounds enhancing their ability to relax coinciding with more robust slow wave formation. This would be an indicator that darkness within itself is not the primary determinant in terms of melatonin production.
Light Exposure Study
This study would comprise of 4 different scenarios (all scenarios would incorporate comparisons between eyes open and eyes closed on different days). The first one would be measuring melatonin levels for a person sitting in direct sunlight at noontime. The second one would be measuring melatonin levels while sitting in a fully lit office or laboratory setting. The 3rd and 4th scenarios comparing the melatonin levels of a person(s) sitting in sunlight & lighted office environments while meditating or listening to “soothing” music.
Hypothesis: Melatonin levels would increase during the “soothing” music and meditations compared to the controls. EEG state would reflect this as greater Theta and possibly Delta wave amplification would arise during the music and meditative states.
These are 2 basic, straight-forward studies that would provide some insight as to the correlation between EEG data and melatonin synthesis. This is not to say that the light/dark theory as it pertains to melatonin has no basis. We believe that darkness plays a definitive role in providing significantly less visual stimulation which obviously effects brain activity. However, outside of visual stimulation via the eyes, there is also the melanocyte photosensory system in the skin that plays a definitive role in melatonin production outside of the pineal gland. I’d be curious to see a study that observed the effects (if any) that altered EEG states have on the melatonin production of the melanocyte photosensory system in both light and dark environments.
One of the challenges in the proposed studies is that the fluctuation of melatonin levels in different bodily fluids and tissues can vary drastically. An example of this was observed in a 2008 study in the Journal of Cerebral Blood Flow & Metabolism in which the levels of melatonin in cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) increased nearly 500% following traumatic brain injury compared to only a 50% increase in blood. There is the possibility that EEG related fluctuations in melatonin are much more magnified in brain tissue/fluid in comparison to blood/saliva levels.
While it’s clear that the optimal environment for melatonin production is likely in complete darkness coupled with a deeply relaxed mind state, the reason for this discussion is based on the notion that it’s considered “normal” for melatonin levels to be extremely low throughout the daytime. Q4LT believes that this might not have to be considered the “norm” and that creating sustained time frames in which melatonin levels are severely depressed can potentially lead to chronic illness. Considering the many studies showcasing melatonin’s effect in regulating mitochondrial function (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11) in conjunction with the many studies showcasing the relationship between mitochondrial dysfunction and various diseases (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11) it would seem that it would be a priority for all healthcare practitioners (you) to be aware of this.
The notion that melatonin production is only controlled by light/dark cycles makes the public believe that there is nothing they can do throughout the day to boost the levels of this hormone outside of finding a way to place themselves in the dark. Q4LT doesn’t believe that this is true and instead, it would seem that there are very basic ways to maintain higher than “normal” melatonin levels during the day.
While entering meditative and/or hypnotic states for an hour, twice a day would be ideal to increase melatonin levels, this is obviously not realistic for the average worker. However, that doesn’t mean that a person cannot do anything to boost their levels. Browsing through various studies, there seems to be quite a variance in measurement of melatonin levels (potentially based on the assay utilized). However, just as an example… let’s say that peak nighttime melatonin levels in the blood hover in the 200pg/ml range while daytime levels hover in the 5pg/ml range. If we are able to periodically induce just 10% of the peak (20pg/ml) melatonin levels at night, that would be considered 400% greater than the “normal” levels during the daytime.
This would seem to be extremely important to alleviate long periods of time in which the modulator of mitochondrial function is severely suppressed. It’s another reason why we believe sustained disturbances in sleep patterns can be linked to virtually all disease. It appears as though melatonin directly influences the endogenous antioxidants reduced glutathione (GSH), glutathione transferase (GST), glutathione peroxidase (GSPx), superoxide dismutase (SOD), and catalase (CAT) which are all linked to longevity and good health. Lesser known antioxidants such as pinoline and DMT also appear to have a direct relationship with melatonin.
I’d venture to say that even something as simple as being conscious of one’s own respiratory depth and rate throughout the day can play a definitive role in inducing greater amplification of EEG slow waves leading to melatonin synthesis. It’s quite common to hold your breath or breath shallow as you work away on the computer. The same can be said when you are required to speak constantly which disrupts respiratory patterns. A 1992 study in the journal Electroencephalography and Clinical Neurophysiology showcased a distinct increase in Delta (0-4Hz) & Theta (4-8Hz) waves from consciously inducing hyperventilation. Perhaps the melatonin peak at 3am coincides with not only darkness but due to the respiratory rhythms observed throughout the night?
There’s the outside possibility that just closing your eyes and taking 10-20 deep rhythmic breaths would lead to spurts of melatonin synthesis in the brain. Doing this 5 or 6 times throughout the day might potentially make a difference in a person’s well being when compounded over weeks, months, and years.
But obviously… more studies are needed. (halfway serious… maybe less than halfway)
It’s interesting to note the EEG changes that occur from “alternative” health practices such as aromatherapy and massage therapy. A 2013 study in the journal Evidence Based Complimentary and Alternative Medicine showcased a marked increase in theta waves from lavender application. A 2004 study in the International Journal of Neuroscience observed increases in theta waves from massage therapy. Just something to think about when these therapies are discarded as having no “clinical” benefits…
(A 2012 write-up in the journal Frontiers in Neurology would cite unpublished data regarding daytime melatonin levels in Vipassana meditators as being nearly 500% greater than non-meditating controls. There needs to be definitive studies showcasing the daytime melatonin levels for meditators compared to non meditators. It wouldn’t be surprising to observe significantly greater daytime baseline levels in the meditator group but there’s only one way to find out… studies.)