This post is about the magic of melatonin. Now before you get all, I thought you didn’t believe in taking melatonin! Let me make it clear that I am talking about the melatonin made naturally in your body, not the melatonin you buy off the shelf in pill or liquid form.
WHAT IS MELATONIN?
Melatonin is a hormone that is produced by various tissues in the body, and today we’re talking about the melatonin made in the pineal gland. We all have a pineal gland, it’s situated in the centre of the brain. Melatonin regulates our sleep-wake cycles, also called our circadian rhythm or internal body clock, and is triggered by our eyes’ detection of light and dark.
The pineal gland produces melatonin when there’s an absence of light in the retina. Night is the pineal gland’s peak hours of production, and this is what makes us feel sleepy. When the eye detects a large amount of light during the day, melatonin production drops, causing us to feel awake, and maintaining a feeling of alertness throughout the day. In general, the pineal gland turns on in the evening and turns off in the morning, cycling through sleepiness and awakeness, if that’s a real word.
Synthetic melatonin can be helpful in maintaining sleep-wake cycles in blind people and can improve sleep for shift-workers and people struggling with jet lag.
SYNTHETIC VS. NATURAL MELATONIN
The problem I have with synthetic melatonin is it’s the go-to for people who are having short-term sleep issues. It’s sold over-the-counter and in many cases, in the vitamin aisle, but it comes with possible side effects and drug interactions, so it’s not the natural herbal supplement people think it is.
Melatonin pills do the same job that melatonin in the body does - regulates our sleep-wake cycles. If you’re suddenly having problems sleeping and you buy melatonin, you’re self-diagnosing and self-prescribing without knowing what the real issue is. I am not anti-melatonin pills if a qualified professional has prescribed them and they’re working for you. I do believe that if you’re having sleep issues you should see your doctor, and you should ask about having a sleep study done to rule out other causes.
Now that my rant is out of the way, let’s talk about some simple ways you can work with your body to regulate your sleep-wake cycle and become a melatonin making machine.
WORKING WITH YOUR BODY TO CREATE MELATONIN
Knowing what we do about how light and dark affect our feelings of alertness and sleepiness, we can start with waking up and creating an environment full of natural light.
When your alarm wakes you, turn on a light to signal to your pineal buddy that it’s time to wake up. Open the curtains, drink your coffee, tea or smoothie on the front step, go for a walk if you have time. If you spend time outdoors in the morning, don’t put your sunglasses on right away. Leave them off for a few minutes so your eyes adjust to daylight and your brain gets the signal.
If you work in an environment full of bright, fluorescent lighting all day, or you stare at a computer screen for hours, or both, take special care to spend your evening away from the same light you’ve been exposed to all day. Blue light and junk light can be overstimulating, and your body and brain need some time to relax and unwind before bed.
Screen use and poor sleep has become such an epidemic that blue blocker glasses aren’t just for shift-workers anymore! A lot of modern retailers are selling stylish glasses that you can wear during the day to protect your eyes from all the screens and overhead light we’re exposed to daily.
Hey, did you know that coffee beans are full of melatonin? Before you go drinking 6 cups of coffee during the day claiming it’s actually good for your sleep, I should tell you that the caffeine in coffee neutralizes the melatonin, so yeah. Sucks for you. Caffeine is a stimulant that reduces melatonin levels in the body, so keep the caffeine as a morning drink only.
OTHER WAYS TO MAKE MELATONIN WORK FOR YOU
In the evening, dim the lights in your home to prepare your mind for sleep. Use lamps or dimmer switches to keep the lights low and sleepy.
Avoid screens after sunset. I know that’s difficult for a lot of people, myself included, but our constant use of technology is killing our sleep. We really have to learn to put down our phones and turn off our TVs and find other things to do in the evening.
At the very least, please install blue light filters on your laptop, tablet, and smartphone. They cast a subtle pink glow on the screen, blocking harmful blue light, and can be programmed to turn on and off at the times you choose. Look for the filter installed on your phone or in the app store and USE IT.
Taking a hot, relaxing bath can also produce melatonin and make us feel sleepy. I would warn that your bath shouldn’t happen too close to bedtime because going to bed warm can make it hard to fall asleep. Give yourself an hour between a hot water soak and crawling into bed.
I read somewhere that the body creates a surge of melatonin between 10PM and midnight, so remember that the next time you leave the room to go to bed before everyone else. As your family members are making fun of you, you can confidently respond with, I have to get ready for bed, I have a hot date with a melatonin surge at 10pm.
I’ve also heard that sleeping in a cool bedroom helps with melatonin production. I believe the explanation was that our body temperature drops as we’re in our initial stages of sleep, so feeling cool before we fall asleep actually signals to our brain that we’re ready for sleep, and melatonin is produced.
According to lifespa.com, people who meditate produce more melatonin than people who don’t. Relaxation techniques like meditation, deep breathing, and prayer help to lower stress hormones in the body, and when the body is low in stress, melatonin is free to do its thing.
Let’s talk about melatonin-friendly food. If you’re hungry for an evening snack, try one that’s melatonin-rich, like walnuts, cherries, goji berries, almonds, pineapple, bananas, or oranges.
Foods that are rich in tryptophan can also up your melatonin production. Tryptophan is an essential amino acid and one of the precursors to melatonin. Foods that contain tryptophan and would make a good snack are soy nuts, cottage cheese, pumpkin seeds, almonds, and yogurt.
Looking to calm racing thoughts at bedtime? Download my free 15-minute sleep meditation!