Even when we’re not at work, we’re on the clock – our biological clock, that is!
Our circadian rhythms are 24-hour cycles of physiological, mental & behavioral changes that influence our sleep-wake patterns, hormone production, hunger & even cell regeneration. By learning how to live in accordance with our own natural rhythms, we can normalize our sleep patterns leading to increased vitality & health.
The key to doing this is understanding how the chronobiotic hormone, melatonin, works in the human body.
Melatonin synchronizes our internal ‘biological clock’ to the stimuli of the external world, giving our bodies clues to what time of day it is & when to perform particular physiological functions. When nightfall approaches, melatonin starts its release by the pineal gland causing increased tiredness eventually leading to sleep.
However, melatonin production only occurs in darkness & is directly inhibited when light hits the retina of our eyes. Therefore, you can see why modern electricity & lights are so disruptive to maintaining our natural circadian rhythms.
How to Optimize your Melatonin Levels:
- Sleep in COMPLETE darkness. Even the slightest bit of light in your bedroom can interfere with your biological clock & hinder melatonin production. Without melatonin, we can not enter the deeper stages of sleep such as REM that are so incredibly restorative to our bodies & minds.
- Avoid watching TV or using the computer in the evening, at least an hour or so before bed. These devices trick your brain into thinking it’s still daytime hindering melatonin secretion which normally begins between 9 and 10 pm.
- Always go to sleep before 1-2 am. Have you ever been really tired but then suddenly got a boost of energy allowing you to stay awake? This “second wind” is actually the body releasing cortisol -- which unfortunately, directly inhibits the production of melatonin and thus interferes with sleep quality & onset. “Nocturnal” sleepers who stay up past this time have been shown to need more sleep yet feel less restored on arising. Reduced melatonin secretion is why!
- Get sunlight right in the morning after waking. Your circadian rhythms need ten to fifteen minutes of bright light in the morning to synchronize itself. This will reduce grogginess during the day & make it easier to sleep at night!
- Make sure you get enough sun exposure daily. Natural sunlight boosts the production of our “happy hormone”, serotonin, which in turn is used to produce melatonin at night. So if we don’t get enough sunlight during the day, we won’t produce enough melatonin at night!
Did you know that melatonin has numerous anti-aging properties, is one of the body’s most potent antioxidants and provides protection against cancer & cognitive decline, as well? But did you know that as we begin to age, we inescapably begin to produce less of this vital hormone?
Many times, lifestyle modification alone cannot increase melatonin levels enough to reap all the benefits of a good night’s sleep. Especially if more advanced in age, melatonin supplementation should be considered.
- Take 30 to 45 minutes before bed.
- More is not necessarily better! The typical dose is 3 to 5mg. But many people need nearly 10mg & many others need less than 1mg. Studies have confirmed that when taking more than your body needs, it can actually disturb sleep when the abnormally high melatonin concentration rebounds back downward. So please start low & begin to taper up from there.
- Do not take if already too late in the night. Like many other sedatives, this increases the chance of experiencing drowsiness the next morning. It has also been shown that melatonin supplementation is less effective if taken at a time when the body has started producing its own already.
Other common uses:
- Jet Lag: Reset your biological clock by taking melatonin right before bed (10 to 11pm) for the first couple of nights in the new time zone.
- Reduce nighttime awakenings: Do you often wake up in the middle of the night even after using hypnotic medications to fall asleep? Consider adding melatonin to your sleep regimen for improvement.
Ultimately, melatonin orchestrates the shift from the action-oriented nature of the waking world to the rejuvenating potential of the realm of sleep. Are you maximizing this rejuvenating potential?!?