Sep 19

Melatonin and the biological clock

It has been a long time since I first heard about Melatonin and Vitamin B6. It was a random forum post that mentioned taking 50mg of vitamin B6 with melatonin after 4 hours of sleep that got me to become interested in the topic. I’ve followed suggestions in the post and seemingly from nowhere, lucidity arose in a dream. The dream itself was vivid and awareness good. Still, I did not know why it worked some days and did not on others. Now come the answers!

Since then I’ve been keeping my eye on the new information about Vitamin B6 and Melatonin and recently have stumbled upon a treasure trove of information about Melatonin. This book: melatonin and the biological clock, published in 1996 contains a lot of information about Melatonin, far more than I’ve ever seen on wikipedia or internet articles. It describes interesting combinations, goes in depth about melatonin- B vitamin interactions. It makes Melatonin seem like a wonderful substance.

[notice]While the book is not dream-specific, I strongly recommend melatonin and the biological clock as a reading if you are experimenting with Melatonin and B vitamins, as there are some timing-related issues that you should be aware of.[/notice] For example, inappropriate use of melatonin may worsen depression, something that the book talks about.

Endocrinology and Sleep.

Over the past summer, I’ve been looking at the biology of sleep, in an effort to make sense of what’s going on in sleep.  I’m pleasantly surprised at the amount of information that is currently available in 2012. There are new studies, new compounds and new sources of information on them available. For example, at a site like, biology.stackexchange.com , it is possible to ask questions to biologists and get references to scientific articles that talk about biology. Another site exists for cognitive science.

One of the cool things that I recently discovered is this wikipedia article on neuromodulators. This article opened my eyes on the subject – in short, a neuromodulator changes how you feel, act and look at the world. Neuromodulators are compounds that alter how the entire nervous system operates and have very far reaching effects. There are 4 neuromodulator systems known, that are entangled together in both synthesis and effects: Noradrenaline, Cholinergic system, Serotonin system and the Dopamine system.

I was surprised to find that these systems are related:

  • For example, Dopamine gets converted to  Epinephrine (Adrenaline)
  • Production of Epinephrine creates Homocysteine, a substance with negative effects on cognition
  • Homocysteine gets metabolized or recycled with two pathways, one using Vitamin B6 and another using Vitamin B12
  • Melatonin, a hormone that we all know and love gets synthesized from Serotonin
  • Serotonin is synthesized from Tryptophan, which is obtained from food.
  • Norepinephrine (Precursor to Adrenaline) in turn has an effect of stimulating Arylalkamine N-acetyltransferase (AANAT), one of enzymes that converts Serotonin to  Melatonin.
  • While another Enzyme of Melatonin synthesis, Hydroxyindole O-methyltransferase (HIOMT) is influenced by the photoperiod (length of the day) and time of the year.

I’m fascinated by this interconnectedness. While there have been previous attempts to explain dream-related phenomenon as effect of neurotransmitters(For example the Advanced lucid dreaming: the power of supplements focused on the Cholinergic system), seeing this interconnectedness makes me look at dreaming in an entirely new light. The description above is over-simplified, but it starts to look more like at sleep and dreaming as a set of “gears” in a clock. One gear turns another one. If one cannot turn, the entire system is malfunctioning. It appears that Melatonin is at the bottom of the chain of synthesis – Serotonin, Dopamine and Adrenaline all have impact in influencing the level of Melatonin. As such, it is not a surprise to learn that  melatonin and the biological clock lists abnormal melatonin levels as a marker for numerous diseases of the body and mind (for example bipolar depression).

Influencing one neuromodulator level would not only have an effect on the entire nervous system, but would also propagate and cause changes to the levels of other compounds, which in turn will impact the quality and clarity of sleep and dreaming. This puts a whole new spin on dream interpretation -dreams may give a glimplse of neuromodulator activity at the moment of dreaming. For example, I hypothesize that aggressive dreams of violence or fleeing may be a result of elevated Epinephrine (Adrenaline, fight or flight hormone) levels, which would also increase the vividness of dreaming by influencing melatonin synthesis at night by raising the availability of AANAT. At the same time, conversion of Norepinephrine to Epinephrine would create Homocysteine, which at elevated levels has been associated with dementia-like symptoms in elderly. Low availability of vitamins B6 or B12 may cause homocysteine levels to stay at elevated levels. While such elevation may not cause noticeable effects on the waking mind, I hypothesize that they may have a profound effect on the person’s ability to think and reason clearly in a dream. I would hypothesize that the “WTF did I do?” dreams may be influenced by elevated levels of homocysteine, and it makes sense, because homocysteine levels are lowered by the presence of vitamins B6 or B12, hence the “spontaneous awareness” associated with B6 supplementation in the middle of the night.

I emphasize that the descriptions given above are 0ver-simplified. It may be a complete BS.  The metabolic pathways of neuromodulators are mind-blowingly complex, do not happen in one place, involve intra-cellular transport, work on a gradient basis and are very interconnected. And this is just the physiology of them, completely ignoring cognitive effects on the entire system, and the system’s ability to transport them to the right locations. Still, I’m happy to find these extra bits of information that improve my understanding of sleep and how my lifestyle/supplement decisions may impact my dreaming.

I hope that this book and the keywords provided would spark your own interest in the topic and help you with web searches. Maybe you know something about these neuromodulators and would like to share it?

Thank you for reading!