By: Dr. Mike Olpin
The human wake and sleep cycle is naturally regulated by the bright light of day and the darkness of night. When the light of day first hits the retina and stimulates a nerve pathway to the hypothalamus, it sets off a chain reaction that sends messages to other parts of the brain that help us feel more awake, like raising body temperature and increasing hormones like cortisol.1
The body also decreases the production of other hormones like melatonin which is both a hormone and an antioxidant.2 Melatonin, sometimes referred to as the “Dracula of Hormones,” is made by your pineal gland which is inactive during the day, but is turned on when the sun goes down and darkness occurs.1 Melatonin production helps us to fall asleep and to stay asleep during the night.
Usually around 9 p.m. melatonin levels in the blood rise sharply and we begin to feel less alert. Melatonin levels stay elevated for about 12 hours and then they fall back to low daytime levels usually by about 9 a.m. (This, and increased total sleep, might help explain some of the reason that adolescents who began their day at school later in the day, actually got better grades.) 3
Many people believe that supplementing with melatonin will help them fall asleep, and for some it does. The body generally has the ability to produce all of the melatonin it needs, but this production can be interrupted by a variety of factors. The problem with taking a melatonin supplement is that it must be taken at the exact right time of the day. If it isn’t, the ingestion and eventual release of the hormone will not produce the increase in drowsiness that helps people fall asleep.
The amount of melatonin that the body produces is affected by a variety of factors. Children generally produce more than adults, which then decreases with age. 1 Not all sleeping problems are caused by a lack of melatonin, but low levels may be affecting your ability to sleep and to stay that way.
Keep it Dark for Ultimate Snoozing.
* No night lights. Remember melatonin cannot be produced in the presence of light. Even small night lights may have a big effect on your ability to stay asleep. This also goes for lights on alarm clocks and electronics. Turn them away from you and put them on the dimmest setting.
* Limit the computer time before bed. Light from computer screens can mimic natural light as read by the brain, signaling time to be awake instead of time to sleep. 3 Light from the TV also disrupts your pineal gland function. 2
* Change your bed table lamp bulbs to 40 watts or less.
* Install dimmer switches in your home to dim lights to lower levels an hour before bed.
* Use blackout shades or curtains which will limit outside street and car lights.
* Try an eye mask. (Really now, what could be more attractive?)
Keep it Light for Ultimate Snoozing.
* Go outside during the day and get a good amount of natural light. Remember bright natural light and fresh air will help you feel more awake and the light turns off the pineal gland which is part of a healthy sleep cycle.
* Consider full spectrum bulbs. If you can’t get natural light. Not only do they help you feel better and more alert, they may help other conditions like Seasonal Affect Disorder, a type of depression.
Other Things that Help Me Sleep
* Progressive Relaxation – According to sleep expert, Dr. Michael J Breus, gradually tensing and releasing your muscles is one of the best relaxation exercises to help you fall asleep.
For tons of relaxation exercises, check out our Master Your Stress Course.