Like many people around the world, this lockdown has started changing our daily routine and habits. Being indoors 24/7, sitting down, eating, watching tv shows and chatting to friends and family on our mobile devices, all have a huge impact on your sleep/ wake cycle. As this has been my personal experience since the start of lockdown I felt I needed to understand more about it.
We have only recently started to understand the alternating sleep & wake cycle and how it relates to daylight and darkness. This is particularly important when it comes to regulating human sleep. As you open your eyes and are gradually exposed to daylight, a nerve pathway is stimulated, from the retina in your eye to a part in the brain called the hypothalamus. There, a special centre called the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) initiates signals to other parts of the brain. Once exposed to the first light each day, the clock in the SCN begins performing functions like raising body temperature and releasing stimulating hormones like cortisol. The SCN also delays the release of other hormones like melatonin, which is associated with sleep onset, until darkness arrives.
WHAT IS MELATONIN ?
Melatonin the dreaming neurotransmitter. 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 night falls and it gets dark a similar but inverse process occurs. That’s when melatonin is produced, it slows down your brain waves from beta to alpha, then to theta and finally to delta. This is an example of your light-related circadian rhythm.
Melatonin is secreted by the pineal gland ( a pea-sized gland located just above the middle of your brain) and the gut and sends the signal to your cells to prepare for sleep. It is secreted naturally when it gets dark outside and is considered to be a good sleep hormone because it improves your sleep quality by helping your body to create the optimal conditions for an amazing sleep. Once produced, it is released in your bloodstream from around 9 pm to 9 am. That’s when you feel less alert and sleep becomes more inviting.
The pineal gland will not produce melatonin unless the person is in a dimly lit environment. In addition to sunlight, artificial indoor lighting can be bright enough to prevent the release of melatonin. The highest levels of melatonin production are to be found in children and then it gradually declines as we grow and age. Even though melatonin declines with age when you sleep smarter there won’t be such a dramatic drop-off and you can sleep like a baby for many years of your life. Remember the production of melatonin is heavily affected by light exposure.
BENEFITS FROM A HEALTHY PRODUCTION OF MELATONIN
- We have already discussed how valuable it is for sleep, but it supports many other things in the body, such as…
- Improves the immune system, it’s not a secret that your immune system is improved when you sleep better. Overall, sleep promotes the health of all of our organs and especially our body’s ability to heal and fight off germs and infections.
- Studies show melatonin contains antioxidants, anti-inflammatory and anti-hypertensive effects, which all help decrease the risk of high blood pressure, heart attacks and strokes.
- Reduces the proliferation of cancer cells.
- Enhances DNA protection and free radical scavenging. Melatonin contains high levels of antioxidants which is what we need to counter the effects of free radicals, a damaging atom that we get from “some dirty fried foods, alcohol, tobacco smoke, pesticides, air pollutants and so on.” Antioxidants can reduce and neutralize the “oxidation damage” that free radicals cause in our cells.
- Decreases the risk of osteoporosis
- Alleviates migraines and other pains
- Improves thyroid function
- Improves insulin sensitivity and weight reduction.
- Melatonin promotes gut health. As we’ve mentioned before, this chemical also comes from our gut and part of the reason why is that it aids digestion. People with irritable bowel syndrome, acid reflux, or other common stomach issues can all benefit from it.
HOW TO INCREASE MELATONIN NATURALLY ?
There are many things one can do to naturally increase melatonin levels without supplements.
1. Take A Break From Technology
The best way to repair your circadian rhythm, experts say, is to stop using technology for a prolonged period of time. Studies show that you can normalise sleeping patterns within a week by leaving technology behind and spending time in nature ( going camping for example).
2. Start Dimming Lights Early
Most people make the mistake of thinking melatonin starts when they turn off the lights to go to sleep. But the truth is that melatonin levels increase when your body starts to sense there is less light. So by gradually dimming the lights in your home and bedroom, you are actively helping this process. This discovery made me smile as my wife has always been a huge fan of dim “Ambiental” light in our living room !!
One of the most devastating impacts of artificial light pollution is the effect it has on melatonin production. Studies show that exposure to light during normal sleeping hours can reduce melatonin production by up to 50%.
3. Reduce Exposure to Blue Lights Before Bed Time
We’re all guilty of this. Scrolling through our phones before bedtime is probably one of the worst sleeping habits anyone can have. The blue light emitted from your phone screen is distinctly harmful to melatonin production.
What we suggest is to keep your phone outside of your bedroom. Leave it charging in the kitchen or in the living room or as far as possible from your bedroom. Let your friends and family know that you are trying to reduce phone usage before bedtime so they don’t call or engage in social media, from 9 pm to 9 am for example, unless it’s an emergency.
Fortunately with tools like blue-light -blocking glasses, red incandescent light bulbs installed in your bedroom, or blue light-blocking software for your computer you can minimize the effects of artificial light.
4. Cut Back on Social Media
It’s also a good idea to reduce your time on social media, especially just before bedtime. I personally try to put my phone on silence mode around 9 pm and physically as far away as possible from me.
5. Eat A Healthy Diet
Did you know that plants contain a certain amount of melatonin ?
Melatonin in plants is considered primarily as an antioxidant and plays an important role in controlling free radicals and other oxidative molecules. It seems obvious to say that eating healthy foods will contribute to a better nights sleep, but also to be aware of the foods that have a high amount of naturally occurring melatonin.
Here a list;
- Tart cherries
- Sweet potato
- Nuts and seeds
Walnuts and ginger roots also have small amounts of melatonin, but the leader at boosting melatonin levels are pineapple, bananas and oranges. Foods that are rich in tryptophan, magnesium, calcium, and B6 are also known to promote sleepiness.
6. Take great care of your Gut.
The non-obvious connection is that the gut is a mass of neural tissue, similar to the brain, that’s why it is referred to as the second brain. The gut has been found to contain 400 times more melatonin than the pineal gland in the brain. So, if your gut is in good health then the production of melatonin can be increased and your sleep quality improved.
7. Increase Relaxation
Another way to induce sleepiness at night is to increase relaxation and this could mean different things for different people.
Here’s some ideas:
- Take a bath
- Essential oil diffuser
- Play soothing music
- Use a sound machine that plays white noise
- Drink non-caffeinated herbal tea
- Meditate before bed
- Journal writing
8. Getting more Sun During the Day
In order to naturally increase melatonin, your body needs a certain amount of natural sunlight. This is because sunlight makes serotonin, which is the precursor of melatonin. Once the sun goes down, leftover serotonin converts into melatonin, which is why you need to stack your serotonin levels during the day.
9. Reducing your coffee intake
Coffee intake is a very personal subject and we all have our preferences as to when and/or how much coffee we need per day. But one thing is sure, coffee helps you wake up in the morning. So the fact that coffee suppresses melatonin will not come as a surprise.
Maybe you don’t think a cup of coffee a day will affect you that much but, over time, you are training your body to produce less melatonin.
MELATONIN AS A SUPPLEMENT
Melatonin supplement is most commonly used for insomnia and improving sleep in different conditions. For example, it is used for jet lag, for adjusting sleep-wake cycles in people whose daily work schedule changes (shift-work disorder), and for helping people establish a day and night cycle.
When taken as an oral supplement, it reaches a maximum concentration in your blood after 30 minutes.
Most people choosing to take melatonin do so in the evening, before going to bed.
- For trouble falling asleep: Take melatonin 30 minutes before bedtime.
- For night owls: People with delayed sleep phase syndrome may want to take melatonin several hours before the desired bedtime. For example, if you naturally fall asleep at 2 a.m., but you desire to go to bed at 11 p.m., you may consider taking it at as early as 9 p.m.
- For early birds: If you have symptoms of advanced sleep phase syndrome, where you wake up several hours too early, try taking it in the morning upon awakening. This condition is relatively rare, however, perhaps affecting less than 1 per cent of people. If considering use in this way, consult with a sleep physician for guidance.
The most common melatonin side effects include:
Healthy Sleeping Habits Are Crucial
Next to food, sleep is arguably one of the most important things in our lives.
If you have poor sleeping habits no amount of melatonin supplements will help you. Good sleep starts with healthy sleeping habits and these habits shouldn’t just be in the bedroom. Once you’ve tried all these tips and tricks and you still have trouble sleeping, there might be a bigger issue at hand. Consult a medical professional if sleeping problems persist.
During this lockdown, I have personally experienced some difficulties in falling asleep, especially after the 3rd week. I have managed to re-establish some sort of normal sleeping patterns by applying some of the tips and tricks above. I suppose my most favourite sleep hack is being outdoors and producing tons of serotonin. I will have to wait a few more weeks for this magic sleep formula to really work.
Take care my friends.
DISCLAIMER The material on this website is for informational purposes only. As each individual situation is unique, you should use proper discretion, in consultation with a health care practitioner, before undertaking the protocols, diet, exercises, techniques, training methods, or otherwise described herein. The author and publisher expressly disclaim responsibility for any adverse effects that may result from the use or application of the information contained herein.