Fall asleep faster and sleep better. Tonight.

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There are many supplements and other sleep-aids available to help you get a good night's ZZZZs. Melatonin is one such supplement. Easily available and relatively inexpensive, melatonin is critical to getting a deep night's slumber. And most of us understand the importance of a deep, restorative sleep. Turns out that melatonin is much more than a sleep aid. It's also a potent antioxidant that also:
1) Helps with brain regeneration and neuroplasticity (that means you can learn new things faster and more easily)

2) Helps prevent aging

3) Helps prevent Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases

4) Helps prevents and reduce glaucoma and tinnitus (ringing in the ears)

 

5) May prevent cancer and diabetes

6) Reduces blood pressure and protects the heart

7) Reduces inflammation

8) Promotes health immune function

And much more.

So what is this miracle substance? Melatonin is a hormone derived from the amino acid tryptophan and the neurotransmitter serotonin. Produced in the pineal gland, it is a major factor in one's ability to fall, and stay, asleep. With all these important health benefits, it makes sense to supplement with melatonin, right? Maybe not. 

Turns out that supplemental melatonin may have detrimental side effects, without much benefit. The first issue is that taking an external source of a critical hormone may signal your body to stop producing its own, as well as interrupt the normal cascade or flow of hormones you body is exquisitely equipped to make for itself. Some users report next-day grogginess after using melatonin. And taking melatonin is contraindicated for people taking medications for:

Bleeding and Clotting Disorders

Depression

Diabetes

High Blood pressure 

Seizure disorders

(As a side note, supplements are not regulated and many supplements may not contain what their label says they contain. This is a much bigger problem than can be addressed in this article, but look for a more detailed article coming soon...)

So how can you increase your own body's production of melatonin, naturally? I'm glad you asked! 

1) Eliminate blue light after sundown. Blue light from electronic devices severely decreases melatonin production. Turn off the screens at least an hour before bed time. Make a plan to sleep 8 hours every night. Let’s say 10 pm to 6 am fits your schedule. Turn off all screens at 9 pm and cozy up with a good (relaxing!) book. Or do some light stretching and meditate. Write in your gratitude journal, trade foot rubs with your sweetie, or take a warm bath. Screen time not only disrupts melatonin production, it also makes our mind too active at a time when it should be winding down. And while there are blue-light blocking glasses and screen apps to reduce the blue light, I suggest you just turn off the screens and go to bed. Your body and mind will thank you.

2) Have a sleep routine. Going to bed and waking up at the same time every day (yes, even on weekends!) helps your body know when to pump out the melatonin. 

3) Get outdoors every day, even if for only half an hour. Morning time is ideal for outdoor light exposure. Our bodies’ circadian rhythms, the body clock that tells us when to sleep, eat, wake up, make melatonin and regulates many other bodily processes, is set by things like sunlight and temperature. Most people spend a lot of time indoors, and don’t get enough bright light to help set their body clocks every day. We don’t get enough bright light exposure (ie, outdoors light) during the day and too much at night. Even a cloudy day is brighter, as measured in lumens, than indoor lighting. This lack of outdoor light throws off our melatonin production and throws our circadian rhythm into disarray. Get out at lunch time and take a walk – you get to move your body (exercise helps you produce melatonin too!) and get light to help keep your circadian rhythm humming. 

4) Keep your room pitch black when sleeping. No night lights and no screens. Watch out for blinking lights or green “on” lights on all sorts of electronic devices, and cover them with a small piece of electrical tape. Better yet, get them all out of your bedroom, including phones. If you have an alarm clock, drape an old t-shirt or some other fabric over the digital numbers so the light doesn’t disturb your sleep, but the sound of the alarm will still wake you up. Use black-out curtains to keep outside light from leaking in.

5) Some medications can interrupt melatonin production. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen and naproxen, beta blockers and calcium channel blockers used to treat high blood pressure, angina and other heart conditions, birth control hormones and hormone replacement therapy, and certain diuretics can all lower melatonin production. If you are taking any of these medications consult with your health care provider to discuss how they may be affecting your melatonin levels. Never stop any medications without talking to your health care provider first.