Melatonin, sometimes called “thehormone of darkness,” plays an important role in regulating our daily sleep patterns. This hormone is produced by our bodies and in most organisms melatonin production is higher during the night than during the day.
In addition to their body’s ownmelatonin, many people take melatonin supplements in an attempt to help themsleep, fight jet lag or balance out seasonal affective disorder.
Melatonin And Memories
But a study by a group of scientists atthe University of Houston suggests that melatonin might have a negative impacton the ability to form new memories.
The researchers were interestedin how the body’s internal clock affects the formation of new memories. Theyfound that small striped minnows called zebra fish learned very well during theday but very poorly at night, when melatonin levels are higher.
They wondered if melatonin played a rolein learning and memory.
Melatonin And Learning
They treated zebra fish with extra melatonin during the day, boosting the hormone levels to night-time amounts.
They discovered that high melatonin didnot affect learning perse, but dramatically reduced the fishes’ ability toform new memories, or to remember what they’d learned.
Then the scientists inhibited melatonin activity in the fish. They did this by blocking melatonin receptors with inhibitory drugs. The fishs’ melatonin levels were unchanged, but the ability of melatonin to affect the brain was blocked.
With melatonin activity blocked, theability of the fish to form new memories was drastically improved, even atnight.
This research has potential benefits forhumans. For example, the use of melatonin receptor blockers could improve performance of night-time cognitive tasks, helping people such as night-shift workers or students cramming for exams.