June 23, 2015
We've all heard of it, and most often been told it’s something you can take if you have trouble falling asleep but did you know that this is a hormone much more powerful than a simple sleeping aid?
Melatonin is one of our oldest, ancestral hormones that is found even in protozoa and is secreted deep in the brain near the pineal gland. From our days long, long before electricity and computers and 24 hour grocery stores, our brains developed to respond to the circadian rhythm of night and day and used melatonin as one of its natural methods to tell us when it was time to start to prepare to sleep (amoung many other things!). Long ago we naturally would be exposed to bright day light during the daytime hours and as the sun began to set and light began to diminish, our melatonin levels began to rise, preparing us for a good night’s rest. In fact, back then man only had the natural, soft, orange glow of a fire for light or the soft glow of the stars and moon and it is only these spectrums of light that have been shown to not disrupt the production of melatonin in your body. Once you flip on a bathroom light, or your cell phone at 2 a.m. or glance out at the street light …. your melatonin production shuts off for the night and will not begin again until the next evening around 9 p.m. Its highest production peaks between 12 and 2 a.m.
Besides helping you sleep, melatonin also has been shown to be one of your very, very best friends to reduce inflammation as well as to be one of your ultimate BFF’s for its anti-cancer properties. Melatonin has a way of combating various cancer cells and triggering them to die, especially cancer cells that target the reproductive organs. We have long, long underestimated the power of this hormone and the way “modern electrical life” has disrupted its production. Melatonin is involved in the hormones of your thyroid and also with the onset of puberty. Some research is even showing that higher, natural melatonin production has anti-aging affects and can help older adults prevent degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and stroke with a maximized melatonin level. And, to top it off there are also indications that digestive problems, mineral absorption, recovery from radiation exposure, sleep problems in autistic children, migraine headaches and anxiety disorders improve when melatonin levels are maximized. It’s actually pretty incredible how powerful this hormone is and when you think of how much light pollution we are exposed to after sunset, it’s no wonder that we suffer more and more with the aforementioned ailments…. we aren’t maximizing our melatonin anymore!! Edison had no idea this would be a side effect.
So now you ask what can I do to increase my production of melatonin now that I know how darn important it is???
Firstly, begin to shut down the lights in your home around sunset. Don’t run to the nearest light switch panel to illuminate things as if it were daytime. Allow the natural progression of light levels to fall and soften. Use yellow, orange and red lights to see by, so that your production of melatonin begins to climb as the evening progresses. You can buy yellow or red bulbs and you can use flameless candles. Think back to the olden days and go to bed at sunset and rise at sunrise.
Do not use the television or your computer, unless you have a filter on them that blocks the blue waves from coming through. I hear husbands walking away right now! LOL You can find these filters online, or like me you can buy blue light filtering glasses and wear them after sunset in the house. (Geek, I know.) (Blue light signals 'daytime' to the brain.) The number one and best solution is to not even have televisions or computers on after sunset, but if that’s not going to happen, get the filter or the glasses. Google “blue light blocking glasses"
Keep your bedroom as dark as possible. Black out. No alarm clock lights, no televisions, avoid any EMF’s from cell phones and wi-fi in your bedroom as they disturb the pineal gland and thus the production of melatonin. Your bedroom should be so dark that you can't see your hand. If you need a little light, get a natural salt lamp with a low wattage bulb inside and keep it in a corner of your room allowing only the lowest possible intensity of light to shine. If you live way, way out in the middle of nowhere with no ‘electric’ light coming in through the windows at night …. moon light will work and is safe.
Keep your bedroom cool. Below 70F or 21C.
During the early morning and daytime be sure to get at least 30 - 60 minutes of BRIGHT daylight into your eyes. No sunglasses. Allow the natural light of day to reset your pineal gland and signal to your brain that it’s ‘wake’ time. As you get older, this is even more important to do as melatonin decreases by half at age 60 than that what we made in our 20’s. Get up and welcome that sunshine and daylight into your eyes!!
Should you take Melatonin supplements?
First, you need to try all of the above methods before taking any supplement. You are far, far better off trying to reset and produce your own melatonin. Your body will co-operate if you diligently do the above and restrict ‘fake light’ after sunset. But, if you do need a little help, less is better. Start with a small dose 0.25 mg and increase only if you find it’s not working. This is not something you want to get into the habit of taking every night either. Allow your body to produce its own if you can and take breaks from taking the supplement if you find it’s not helping anymore. Melatonin is also a useful tool if you are travelling and have jet lag. Again, start with a small dose taken about 30 minutes before you hit the sack. Melatonin supplements can be very helpful if you work shift work or late nights as well. Keep in mind that some people find if they take too much they get vivid dreams, night mares or even agitated.
Be aware that taking certain prescriptions (and coffee) can also reduce your natural ability to produce melatonin, as well as certain prescriptions can increase the effects of the melatonin you take.
Melatonin has a sedating effect, which may be magnified by the use of benzodiazepines or other sedating drugs such as antihistamines or antidepressants. Similarly, the use of melatonin with valerian, 5-hydroxytryptophan, or alcohol may increase sedation.
The bioavailability of melatonin is increased when taken with the antidepressant drug fluvoxamine (Luvox®) Beta blockers, as well as aspirin and other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, may decrease melatonin production in the body. So if you are on medications, check to see how melatonin may be affected either inhibiting your natural production or increasing its affects when you take a supplement.
I think it’s safe to say that we need to do all we can to allow our bodies to follow their natural, circadian rhythms and respect Mother Nature’s wisdom in the cycles of day and night and that by following those natural rhythms, we can be healthier, live happier and sleep way better!