What is Melatonin?
Whilst this isn’t going to be a science lesson, you should be aware of Melatonin, the naturally created hormone known as the “hormone of darkness”.
A good night’s sleep requires both Melatonin and serotonin. Melatonin regulates your natural body clock, known as circadian rhythm. Whereas serotonin is responsible for the REM sleep stage (rapid eye movement). Are you still with us?
Melatonin is the hormone produced by the pineal gland, which responds to low light such as the sun setting, darker rooms and the effect of closing your eyes. This prepares your body for sleep, or should do unless you interfere with it, which we will tell you all about later! When your body starts to release this hormone, it effectively tells your internal body clock that it is time to wind down and prepare for sleep.
Interfering with nature…
When variables are introduced such as bright lights, sunlight, blue light from electronics, noise and stress, this can stop the production and signal the body to effectively “wake up” again. Mother nature is a wonderful thing until you cross her (or him) then the battle commences. People who work night shifts, frequently travel across time zones or those who use electronics late into the night, can struggle to achieve a regular circadian rhythm (your natural body clock).
Ever wonder why you are more tired waking up on a winter morning when it is still dark outside, compared to a lovely sunny summer morning? – well it’s because in the summer the natural daylight of the sun lowers your melatonin levels to bring you out of your sleep state and cycle. Sadly in the winter, the dark, gloomy, miserable(!) mornings maintain your natural melatonin at a high level so you need to force yourself to get out of bed and wake up (perhaps with an added coffee or two!).
Melatonin and growing old.
Everybody can produce melatonin, however levels are known to reduce with age. When we say age, we mean it’s all downhill quite early on for melatonin. Although levels are at their peak between the ages of 1-3 years, they start to decline until they plateau in early adulthood. Melatonin also decreases in those who suffer from dementia, type 2 diabetes, severe pain, cancer and some mood disorders. However, all is not lost. You can make the most of your melatonin by changing your lifestyle through food, habits and environment.
One way to increase your melatonin levels naturally are as follows:
- Use softer lighting for the evening, such a low yellow lighting instead of bright white LED’s and spot lights.
- Turn off electronics at least 2 hours before you aim to sleep. Blue light suppresses melatonin secretion.
- Keep a regular routine of sleep and wake times.
- Use sleep aids with natural ingredients to help increase your melatonin levels
Lack of sleep also causes the body to age faster as the cells do not have the adequate time to renew when sleep is reduced. This is another good reason to get in the hours now, before it’s too late and the damage has been done. Ageing is not just wrinkles, it includes your internal organs too!
Natural over synthetic.
Before you reach for the melatonin supplement, we would suggest doing your research and speaking to your doctor first, as it’s NOT like taking an extra Vitamin C tablet for example. In the UK melatonin cannot be bought over the counter and needs to be prescribed by a doctor – there is a good reason for that.
Melatonin is an antioxidant, when taken as a supplement in mild insomnia cases such as jet lag can assist but if used incorrectly can cause more damage. If taken regularly, melatonin supplements can also have the opposite effect and actually make your insomnia worse. As you desensitise, you need more to make a difference, then too much can cause headaches and nightmares. It’s a vicious circle and we would avoid this option and opt for a healthy bedtime routine instead.
To assist in the natural production of melatonin, here are a few tips you can implement today safely, and most of all naturally to increase your levels.
- Eat more melatonin rich foods such as turkey, chicken, tomatoes, pomegranate, asparagus, olives, broccoli, cucumber, pineapple and grapes.
- Tryptophan and Vitamin B6 foods such as bananas, potatoes, eggs, spirulina, cod, salmon, oats, quinoa, rice and chickpeas. Also nuts and seeds such as sunflower, pistachio and sesame.
- Switch off all electronics 1-2 hours before you go to bed.
- Relax with the scent of lavender, pillow sprays and bath oils are a great introduction.
- Use sleep aids with natural ingredients to help increase your melatonin levels.
Like most things in life, a few simple changes can have a great effect on our wellbeing. Try the above along with our tips for a better nights sleep and see what a difference it can make, naturally!
Stay Natural and Sleep Happy!