Natural Melatonin Levels
A few months ago, you mentioned ways to boost our body’s natural melatonin levels, to help improve a person’s ability to sleep. Can you elaborate?
Signed: Natural Melatonin Levels
Dear Natural Melatonin Levels,
Absolutely! Getting a good night of quality sleep is essential to our mental wellness. On average, adults require about 8 hours of good quality (restful) sleep per night – children and teens need more (about 10 hours/night); and toddlers/babies need even more (up to 17 hours). The loss of just 1 hour of quality sleep has detrimental effects on our ability to function effectively the next day. Physically, our bodies increase their inflammation levels, their stress hormones (esp cortisol), and the production of the genes associated with Alzheimer’s, Diabetes, Cancer and heart related illnesses. We get more cravings (for the wrong kinds of foods) and our ability to lose weight (even if we are eating well and/or working out) is severely impaired. Our immune system is compromised, so we can get sick easier; and our ability to manage stress drops. We struggle more with emotional issues like irritability, impatience, anxiety and depression. Our cognitive abilities are compromised (focus, concentration, memory recall, etc) and our neuron production slows (fewer new brain cells are made).
Boosting our natural melatonin levels ensures that not only are we falling asleep quickly (within 10 min), but we are also staying asleep throughout the night and waking up feeling refreshed in the morning. To do this, we need to be able to pass through all 5 stages of our normal sleep cycle, repeatedly (usually 4 or 5 times) each night. And our levels of melatonin allow us to do this. These levels of melatonin fluctuate throughout the night. Typically, we want to see higher levels early in our sleeping period, and lower levels throughout the later parts. This means the amount of deep sleep (vs light sleep and REM sleep) will also change through the night, and with each sleep cycle.
There are a few key ways to boost the body’s natural production of melatonin. Try to steer clear of synthetic melatonin (which is only about 50% as strong), or sleeping agents that are not completely organic in nature. The more we provide an external one-step remedy to our sleeping issues, the more we train our bodies to produce less natural melatonin. Rather, we want to trigger the internal production of the hormone instead, so we are resetting/training our brains/bodies to make what we need on a consistent basis. To do that, try these strategies:
- Get exposure to BRIGHT light as much as possible during the day (sun lamps help, for the darker seasons);
- Stop screen time at least 1 hour before bed (to trigger your brain into starting the push of natural melatonin);
- Don’t eat a heavy meal or exercise close to (2-3 hours before) bedtime (your metabolism needs to slow down for a proper melatonin release);
- Don’t nap for more than 20 min during the day (or your body’s production of melatonin will be triggered at that point and you won’t have the right amount being produced for nighttime sleep);
- Enjoy a snack of pistachios, cherry juice, almonds, spinach, bananas, whole grains, or foods with tryptophan in them (chicken, turkey, yogurt, etc) about 2 hours before bed, which increases melatonin production;
- Drink warm milk (which has enzymes that promote melatonin release/production) 30 minutes before bed;
- Try relaxation teas (chamomile, peppermint, ginger, etc) 30 min before bed;
- Take a magnesium supplement at suppertime (this is the natural ingredient in many prescription sleeping medications);
- Avoid sugars, carbs and caffeine * (* none after 2pm) as they block your natural melatonin production.
We can get used to getting less sleep, and even convince ourselves that we don’t really need as much sleep as we do. But body functioning does not lie, even if we are able to push through and normalize the symptoms of the deprivation. It is impossible to “catch up” on lost amounts of good quality sleep. The effects of a poor night’s sleep hit us immediately the next day. Sleeping better on the second night means the second day will be much healthier for us. But the damage done on the first day doesn’t get undone. We can’t take back or change the way we felt and the strain that we put on our body after it has already happened.
Multiple nights of poor sleep means that the cumulative effect of the strain/unhealthiness continues to add up – and that can become quite problematic, even under the surface. It can take days/weeks to fully repair all that accumulated damage. But with even just one night of proper rest, the repair and rejuvenation processes will begin right away, and we often start to feel better (to some noticeable degree) by the next day.
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