By Joe Dispenza, DC
When you wake up in the morning and return to the world of the senses, the moment your eye perceives light through your iris, receptors in the optic nerve send a signal to a part of your brain called the suprachiasmatic nucleus. It then sends a signal to the pineal gland, which responds by making serotonin, the daytime neurotransmitter.
As you will recall, neurotransmitters are chemical messengers that transmit and communicate information between nerve cells. The neurotransmitter serotonin tells your body it’s time to wake up and start your day. As you integrate information between all your senses in order to create meaning between your inner and outer world, serotonin stimulates your brain waves from delta to theta to alpha to beta, causing you to once again realize you’re in a physical body in space and time. Thus, when your brain is firing in beta brain waves, you put much of your attention on your outer environment, your body, and time. That’s normal.
When night falls and it gets dark, a similar but inverse process occurs. The inhibition of light sends a signal along the same route back to the pineal gland, but now the pineal gland transmutes serotonin into melatonin, the nighttime neurotransmitter. This melatonin production and release of slows down your brain waves from beta to alpha, making you sleepy, tired, and less likely to want to think or analyze. As your brain waves slow down to alpha, you become more interested in returning your attention to your inner world rather than your outer world. Eventually, as your body falls asleep and goes into a catatonic state, your brain waves move from alpha to theta to delta, thus inducing periods of dreaming as well as deep, restorative sleep.
The Importance of Rhythm
By living within the rhythm of your external environment, within this diurnal pattern of wakefulness and sleep (based on where we live in the world), your brain becomes automatically entrained to the daily production of these chemicals at very specific times in the morning and evening. This is called the circadian rhythm. Most of us know that when we move out of this natural rhythm we become out of sorts, such as when we travel to another part of the world where the sun rises and sets several hours ahead of our normal time zone. This is jet lag, and we need some time to recalibrate.
When the body gets out of its natural circadian rhythm, it will usually take a few days to readjust to the new environment’s rhythm of sunrise and sunset. This is all chemistry you produce from your interaction with your external three-dimensional world—from your eyes’ reaction to the sun and the frequency of visible light.
Melatonin induces rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, a phase of the circadian rhythm that causes dreaming. As you diminish the thoughts and chatter in your head, giving way to sleep and eventually the dreaming state, the brain begins to internally see and perceive in images, pictures, and symbols. Let’s take a closer look at the molecular structure of this dreaming neurotransmitter.
The process of your body creating melatonin starts with the essential amino acid L-tryptophan, the raw material responsible for making serotonin and melatonin. Melatonin, to be converted into melatonin, it must pass through a series of chemical changes known as methylation. Methylation is the process of taking a single carbon and three hydrogens (known as a methyl group) and applying it to countless critical functions throughout our body such as thinking, repairing DNA, turning genes on and off, fighting infections, and so on. In this case, it’s part of the production of melatonin.
Because this methyl group is made up of very stable chemicals, the basic structure of the five- and six- sided rings stay the same during this series of chemical reactions. However, as different groups of molecules attach to those rings, they change the properties and characteristics of the molecule.
Beginning with L-tryptophan, the pineal gland transmutes it into 5-hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP), which then becomes serotonin. Serotonin is a more stable molecule than 5-HTP, can sustain itself in the brain, and has a more useful function, as we’ll soon see. Through another chemical reaction, the pineal gland converts serotonin into N-acetylserotonin and then an additional reaction turns it into melatonin. And all of this happens in the pineal gland. In a 24-hour cycle, the production of melatonin is highest between the hours of 1 am and 4 am. This is important to remember.
Over-Stimulated Adrenals & Melatonin
We now know there’s an inverse relationship between our adrenal hormones and melatonin. As adrenal cortisol levels go up, melatonin levels go down. This is the reason why we can’t sleep when we’re under stress. In antiquity, this served as a biological safety mechanism. For instance, if a predator was chasing you a few times on the way to the watering hole, and then you spotted more large beasts in your territory, your body, in its innate intelligence, would want to prevent you from becoming prey yourself. In such cases, sleep and restoration become less important than surviving. More aptly put—your staying alive by remaining awake through the night is more valuable than sleeping and risking death.
When your body is trying to rest in this vigilant state, it never gets the restorative sleep it needs because the survival chemicals, like cortisol, have switched on the survival genes. If the perceived stressor is not a saber-toothed tiger, but instead your strained relationship with your ex-spouse, whom you must interact with daily, that chronic stress keeps the survival system activated. Now this safety valve is no longer adaptive but maladaptive. This type of chronic stress alters typical levels of melatonin (and even serotonin), knocking the body out of homeostasis.
But if you lower the levels of cortisol, melatonin levels will increase. In other words, when you break the stress response by overcoming the emotional addiction to those chemicals, your body can go back to long-term building projects instead of constantly dealing with the perceived emergency.
Facts About Melatonin
• Stops the excess secretion of cortisol in response to stress
• Improves carbohydrate metabolism
• Lowers triglyceride levels
• Inhibits atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries)
• Heightens the immune response (cellular and metabolic)
• Decreases the devolpment of certain tumors
• Increases life span in laboratory rats by 25 percent
• Activates a neuroprotective role in the brain
• Increases REM sleep (dream sleep)
• Stimulates free-radical scavenging (anti-aging, antioxidant)
• Promotes DNA repair and replication
Melatonin has many other interesting applications. For example, it improves carbohydrate metabolism. This is important because when certain people respond to stress, the body takes carbohydrates and stores them as fat—and fat is nothing more than stored energy. This is a result of primitive genes signaling the body to store energy in case there’s a famine. Melatonin has also been known to help with depression. It’s even been proven to increase levels of DHEA, the anti-aging hormone.
Activating the Pineal Gland
For years, I spent enormous amounts of time studying the pineal gland and seeking researchers who did extensive measurements of its metabolites and tissue. My interest was in tying together my findings with some ancient mysteries about the human body and mind.
As higher frequencies and higher states of consciousness [that you experience in meditation practices] interact with the pineal gland, one of the first things to happen is that these frequencies transmute melatonin into chemicals called benzodiazepines. Benzodiazepines are a class of drugs, from which Valium is created, that anesthetize the analytical mind, so, all of a sudden, the thinking brain relaxes and stops analyzing. According to functional brain scans, benzodiazepines suppress neural activity in the amygdala, the brain’s survival center. This limits chemicals that cause you to feel fear, anger, agitation, aggression, sadness, or pain. Now your body feels calm and relaxed, but your mind is awakened.
Editor’s note: This excerpt has been reprinted with permission from several sections of Becoming Supernatural: How Common People Are Doing the Uncommon, by Joe Dispenza, DC. The book can be found online at hayhouse.com or amazon.com.
Joe Dispenza, DC, is an international lecturer, researcher, corporate consultant, and educator who has personally taught many three-day progressive workshops and five-day advanced workshops in the US and abroad. He is a New York Times best-selling author of several books, including You are the Placebo. He also wrote Evolve Your Brain, and Breaking the Habit of Being Yourself, both of which detail the neuroscience of change and epigenetics. His postgraduate training covered neurology, neuroscience, brain function and chemistry, cellular biology, memory formation, and aging and longevity. For more information, see www.drjoedispenza.com.
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