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The newly discovered coronavirus had killed only a few dozen people when Feixiong Cheng started looking for a treatment. He knew time was of the essence: Cheng, a data analyst at the Cleveland Clinic, had seen similar coronaviruses tear through China and Saudi Arabia before, sickening thousands and shaking the global economy. So, in January, his lab used artificial intelligence to search for hidden clues in the structure of the virus to predict how it invaded human cells, and what might stop it. One observation stood out: The virus could potentially be blocked by melatonin.…theatlantic, The Mysterious Link Between COVID-19 and Sleep, James Hamblin 2020
Melatonin, best known as the sleep hormone, wasn’t an obvious factor in halting a pandemic. Its most familiar role is in the regulation of our circadian rhythms. Each night, as darkness falls, it shoots out of our brain’s pineal glands and into our blood, inducing sleep. Cheng took the finding as a curiosity. “It was very preliminary,” he told me recently—a small study in the early days before COVID-19 even had a name, when anything that might help was deemed worth sharing.
After he published his research, though, Cheng heard from scientists around the world who thought there might be something to it. They noted that, in addition to melatonin’s well-known effects on sleep, it plays a part in calibrating the immune system. Essentially, it acts as a moderator to help keep our self-protective responses from going haywire—which happens to be the basic problem that can quickly turn a mild case of COVID-19 into a life-threatening scenario.
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