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Melatonin. You might’ve heard the word before, you’ve might’ve seen the little bottles of it at your local drugstore, or maybe you’ve even taken it. But do you know what it is and how it works? If you don’t you might be using it wrong.
Melatonin is a naturally occurring chemical in our body that makes us sleepy but due to poor nighttime rituals and excessive exposure to certain lights, many of us are hindering its production. If you have trouble sleeping and would like to learn more about how to increase melatonin levels naturally, read on to find out more.
What Is Melatonin
Melatonin is a hormone that our body naturally produces when the sun starts to go down. It’s produced in our pineal gland, the part of our brain that controls sleep, and most recently also discovered in our gut.
There aren’t a lot of studies to show how much of this sleeping chemical each person produces exactly but overall, experts have agreed that the amount you produce is not nearly as important as when you produce.
Melatonin is present in our bodies throughout the day but when it gets dark, its production will drastically increase. And once produced, the chemical will be distributed throughout our bloodstream. Imagine a robot running around your body telling all the different parts it’s time to shut down for the day.
Benefits of Melatonin
Other than restful sleep, melatonin offers a variety of other benefits:
- More energy
- Better concentration
- Prevents memory loss
- Keeps immune system strong
- Keeps eyes healthy
- Gets rid of free radicals
- Slows down signs of aging
It’s not a secret that when you sleep better, your immune system also works better. Overall, sleep promotes the health of all of our organs and especially our body’s ability to heal and fight off germs and infections. There’s a reason why your doctor tells you to make sure you get a lot of rest and sleep when you’re sick.
Studies show melatonin contains antioxidants, anti-inflammatory, and anti-hypertensive effect, which all help decrease the risk of high blood pressure, heart attacks, and strokes.
Melatonin promotes gut health. As we’ve mentioned before, this chemical also comes from our gut and part of the reason why… it aids digestion. People with irritable bowel syndrome, acid reflux, or other common stomach issues can all benefit from it.
Melatonin contains high levels of antioxidants which is what we need to counter the effects of free radicals, a damaging atom that we get from “some dirty fried foods, alcohol, tobacco smoke, pesticides, air pollutants, and many more.” Antioxidants can reduce and neutralize the “oxidation damage” that free radicals cause in our cells.
Other reported benefits include pain management, PMS, eye health, thyroid functions, memory health and much more.
What Affects Melatonin Production
People have trouble sleeping for a variety of reasons but one of the most common ones is due to disruptions in our circadian rhythm, which controls the timing of our sleep. These disruptions are caused by a combination of natural and artificial reasons.
Too Much Artificial Light
Artificial lights simulate natural light, so if you have a lot of bright lights in your house especially your bedroom, it can confuse your body. Our eyes cannot tell the difference between natural lights from artificial lights and may be sending our brains signals that it’s still daytime when really, it’s night time. This disrupts the melatonin secretion in our brain.
Your phone, computer, and television screen all contain LED lights, which are sometimes called “blue lights.” These blue lights are known to interrupt sleep.
If you stare at technology too much at night, it affects your body’s circadian rhythm. If the rhythm is messed up, your body won’t know when to increase or decrease melatonin production, which is why you’ll have trouble falling asleep and waking up.
Not Getting Enough Sun During the Day
In order to naturally increase melatonin, your body needs a certain amount of natural sunlight. This is because sunlight makes serotonin, which is the precursor of melatonin. Once the sun goes down, leftover serotonin converts into melatonin, which is why you need ample sunlight during the day to make sure enough serotonin was created.
During the fall and winter months, there’s less light, people tend to produce high levels of melatonin. You might’ve noticed yourself that it’s harder to get out of bed during the winter.
However, during the time when the seasons change, your body might have a hard time adjusting to the different levels of light. For example, if where you live is transitioning from the summer to the fall, you might find yourself staying up way past bedtime in the fall because your body hasn’t adjusted to the longer hours of darkness yet.
Too Much Caffeine
This probably doesn’t come as surprise to many, but caffeine suppresses melatonin, which is why it helps people wake up in the morning.
Maybe you don’t think a cup of coffee a day will affect you that much but over time, you are training your body to produce less melatonin and ignore sleepiness, which can lead to chronic fatigue and bigger sleeping problems.
How to Increase Melatonin Naturally
There are many things one can do to naturally increase melatonin levels without supplements. The biggest one has to do with lights.
1. Take A Break From Technology
The best way to repair your circadian rhythm, experts say, is to stop using technology for a prolonged period of time. One week was found to be the perfect amount of time to normalize sleeping patterns for a group of participants who were asked to go camping for a week.
You can try to not touch any technology at home for a week but let’s face it, in today’s world it is nearly impossible to avoid technology at home. Even if you don’t want to watch TV, your spouse or your children might and that’ll tempt you to watch too.
The best solution is to plan a getaway for the whole family and turn off all the technology. If you must use it, designate only one or two hours in the middle of the day for it. Plus, leaving technology behind is a great way for the family to bond face to face.
2. Start Dimming Lights Early
Most people make the mistake of thinking melatonin starts when they turn off the lights to go to sleep, but this is not true. Melatonin levels increase when your body starts to sense there is less light.
What you can do to aid this process is by dimming the lights in your house and bedroom earlier. At least one hour before bedtime, start to turn off the lights in the house that you do not need and only leave on the ones that are crucial.
If you only have one light in your bedroom, consider getting a desk lamp or installing a light dimmer so you can control the amount of light you can have in your room. By reducing the intensity of the light in your house way before bedtime, you’ll be signaling to your body to get ready for bed and this should help the chemicals going.
3. Reduce Exposure to Blue Lights Before Bed Time
We’re all guilty of this. Scrolling through our phones before bedtime but this is probably one of the worst sleeping habits anyone can have. The blue light emitted from your phone screen is distinctly harmful to melatonin production.
It’s not easy to put away the phone though, we know. What we suggest is for you keep the phone outside of your bedroom. Leave it charging in the kitchen or in the living room and let your friends and family know that you are trying to reduce phone usage before bedtime so they don’t call unless it’s an emergency.
Also: pro tip – blue blocking glasses at night. Check out Amazon for a bunch of options.
4. Cut Back on Social Media
Similar to point number three, social media is one of the reasons why many people are addicted to their cell phones and computers. If you find yourself scrolling through social media for hours before bedtime, stop.
It’s harder said than done but some ways to do this is to turn off notification settings, put the icons in specific folders, or delete the icons completely so you can only check them on a computer.
5. Eat A Healthy Diet
While this seems like a generic piece of advice, a healthy diet is crucial to better sleep. In fact, did you know all plants have a certain amount of melatonin in them? That’s because plants, like us, also rely on light to grow.
Foods that have a high amount of naturally occurring melatonin are:
- Tart cherries
- Sweet potato
- Nuts and seeds
Foods that are rich in tryptophan, magnesium, calcium, and B6 are also known to promote sleepiness.
6. Increase Relaxation
Another way to induce sleepiness at night is to increase relaxation and this could mean different things for different people. For example, music might relax one person but might stimulate another.
Here’s some ideas:
- Take a bath
- Essential oil diffuser
- Play soothing music
- Use a sound machine that plays white noise
- Drink non-caffeinated herbal tea
- Search, Ponder and Pray
What About Melatonin Supplements
Supplements can be great if you need an extra boost for reasons like jetlag or seasonal changes. You can use it to help you correct your circadian rhythm but we wouldn’t recommend thinking of it as a replacement for your own melatonin.
Your body is naturally able to produce melatonin and if you have trouble sleeping, it probably means its production cycle is off. What you need to do is follow the recommended advice above to try to normalize it.
Are Melatonin Supplements Safe?
If you do decide to take melatonin, try to take the synthetic kind because the natural kind contains substances from the pineal glands of animals which carries the risks of viruses.
Compared with other sleeping medications, melatonin is considered relatively safe but if you have other health issues and are taking other types of medication, it is best to always check with your doctor to make sure it won’t interfere with any other drugs.
Can You Take Too Much?
An overdose of melatonin is unlikely but it does have its own side effects. These include:
- excessive drowsiness
- vivid dreams (might not be so bad)
- changes in blood pressure
A common thing that people misunderstand about melatonin is that the amount you take does not make you sleepier. So if you take melatonin and it doesn’t work for you, taking more won’t make it more effective. Doctors say taking 1-3 mg an hour before you sleep should do the trick.
Healthy Sleeping Habits Are Crucial
Next, to food, sleep is arguably one of the most important things in our lives. Without it, our body starts to shut down, our organs fail, and our responses are delayed.
If you have poor sleeping habits, no amount of melatonin supplements will help you. Good sleep starts with healthy sleeping habits and these habits shouldn’t just be in the bedroom. We already learned how to increase melatonin by reducing light exposure before bedtime but remember a wholesome diet is just as important.
Once you’ve tried all these tips and tricks and you still have trouble sleeping, there might a bigger issue at hand. Consult a medical professional if sleeping problems persist. If you’d like more advice and tips on leading a healthier life, be sure to check out our blog for more!