For those who can sleep very easily, these people tend to take their ability to fall sleep for granted. For those who can’t insomnia can be very uncomfortable and distressing.
What many don’t know is that your ability to sleep or the lack of it, lies in one small-sized endocrine gland that’s found in your brain called the Pineal Gland. It is located deep in between the right and left brain hemispheres, and was the subject of much speculation and myth.
At a point, famous philosopher Rene Descartes believed that it was the principal seat of the soul –a claim that’s been faulted and rejected. There are also schools of thought who think it might be the gateway to the ethereal plane. But this article is about its impact on your health.
Shaped like a pinecone –hence the name- and erroneously referred to as the “third eye” in the past, this is now known to produce and release melatonin, which helps with the regulation of your circadian rhythm and your reproductive hormones.
This means that it plays a critical role in the quality of your sleep and rest at night. Therefore, it can be said that the pineal gland plays a significant role in how your feel and function during the day, seeing as little or no rest often results in impaired cognitive function and hormonal imbalance.
It is able to produce melatonin through the function of its pinealocytes–cells that function within the gland- and glial cells which help activate the neurons in the brain, resulting in the speedy delivery of melatonin as at when needed.
How Does the Pineal Gland Helps Regulate Your Sleep and Wakefulness?
Your body has something called the circadian rhythms. These are the body’s indicators telling it when to wake up, rest, get some sleep and stay focused and awake during specific times of the day.
Think of it as your body’s “activity monitor” instructing you when to do what. With the rhythms in sync, you’ll get just as much rest as your body deems fit, and stay as focused during the day.
In fact, this is the reason you don’t suddenly fall asleep in the middle of the day or while walking down the stairs. This is one of the reasons why you need this a lot. How much melatonin you have in your body at any given time is dependent on how much natural light you get on a daily basis.
Increased exposure often means more alertness and less tendency to fall asleep, and vice versa. This is why you’re more likely to fall asleep when the blinds are closed and the bedroom is dark, even if it’s midday and the sun is shining in its full glory.
This is possible because the brain is trained to help with the stimulation of the pineal glands when it’s dark. As far as the brain is concerned, stimulation of the pineal gland starts once the lights are darker. This is probably why you are less inclined to fall asleep at night if you have a bright light on in the bedroom.
Now, because many people are sleeping less, and there’s always some bright light on somewhere and possibly filtering into your bedroom at night –this is more prevalent in the city- people are opting for melatonin supplements to help them get some highly needed sleep.
In spite of this connection between melatonin and sleep, there are a few studies indicating that the connection between the two may not be that simple. Scientists essentially cut out the pineal gland in lab rats to see if it affected their ability to sleep even when they were exposed to equal parts of light and dark.
The rats that were pinealectomized and control group were exposed to equal amounts of light and dark during the experiment. The result showed that there was no significant difference in wakefulness and sleep in both groups.
If anything, they exhibited similar behaviors. Which then begs the question: does pineal gland function differently in different animal species? Do their functions vary depending on the species? Researchers are still trying to figure that out.
Extra Pineal Gland Benefits
Our pineal gland’s functions aren’t just restricted to the regulation of your sleep-wake patterns. It also has other benefits such as:
Pineal glands studies have shown a strong link between its decline and an increased risk of osteoporosis. This means if you pineal gland doesn’t function as optimally as it should, your bones are likely to get brittle and weak, increasing your risk of suffering from broken bones.
Unfortunately, its functions tend to decrease with age. This is probably one of the reasons why menopausal and postmenopausal women tend to suffer from osteoporosis and to a lesser degree, males older than 50.
People who suffer from a decline in pineal gland functions might find taking melatonin supplements, will increase their bone density and lower the risk of suffering from osteoporosis.
Improved Cognitive Functions
One of the scariest things to go through is suffering from decreased cognitive functions. This is one of the reasons why Alzheimer’s kills people. Memory loss, reduced focus, poor cognition and dulled mental clarity are all things we suffer occasionally.
But, when it starts becoming somewhat frequent, you may need to check your pineal gland. Studies have linked increased cognition to optimal pineal gland function. This is why you tend to suffer from cognitive impairment when you’re sleep deprived, suffering from insomnia or narcolepsy.
Not just that, it has been implied that conditions like the Seasonal Affective Disorder aka winter blues, can be linked to low light conditions and may be triggered by increased pineal gland functions. Although a recent publication showed this to be untrue.
Improved Regulation of Growth Hormones
The pituitary gland, which is located in the hypothalamus has been proven to produce and regulate growth hormones and the thyroid gland.
There are studies that indicate a possible interference from the pineal gland if there’s excessive production of melatonin, resulting in the inhibition of the menstrual cycle, eggs and sperm production.
However, when it functions well, it can actually aid the production of these hormones and the pituitary gland.
May Slow Down the Aging Process
Don’t get us wrong, there are far too many contributors to the aging process. But, one of the key contributors is a lack of sleep. Prolonged insomnia can result in faster aging, making an individual look older than they really are.
This often happens because of the prolonged “wear and tear”, supplemented with little or no rest. As a result, the body doesn’t have enough time to recoup and recover. So, adequate melatonin production can play a role in slowing down the aging process.
For adults who are particular about preventing rapid aging, you may need to find ways to stimulate higher melatonin levels, seeing as sleeplessness tends to increase with age and is often found in older individuals.
Side Effects of Poor Pineal Gland Function and Calcification
As you age, your pineal glands undergo something called pineal calcification. This simply means that your body deposits some calcium in the pineal gland. When deposited at a normal rate, there may not be any cause for concern.
But, when the deposits are pretty significant, it can negatively impact the pineal gland’s functions resulting in some of the following:
- Disruption of the circadian rhythm
- Impaired sense of direction
- Nausea and vomiting
- Headaches and dizziness
- Osteoporosis or brittle bones
- Altered menstrual and fertility cycles
- Reduced virility in men
- Seasonal depression
Therefore, anything that affects adjoining or close organs such as the hypothalamus, can affect the pineal gland and impair its functions. The best way to get your pineal gland functioning optimally, all day every day is to:
- Get proper sleep – preferably in a very dark room
- Meditation – optional, but this helps calm the nerves, de-stresses you and inhibits the flow of cortisol –the stress hormone- in your body
- Get out in the sun for a bit – exposure to the early morning and late evening sunrise and sunset can stimulate your pineal glands for optimal functioning
- Eat healthy – choose leafy greens, veggies and fruits above junk foods. Good foods to include in your diet are chlorella, beets, oregano oil, and apple cider vinegar.
- Get rid of blue light devices – like your cellphone, laptop, tablets, TV and other devices that can affect your sleep
- Soundproof your bedroom – to filter out noise from the street