Can’t Sleep? Maybe You’re Lacking Melatonin
Written by: Sara Wylie
There’s a reason we’re meant to sleep in the dark. It’s the same reason why humans aren’t nocturnal beings and why it’s always a risk when the teacher turns off the lights in a classroom full of tired students
And that reason is melatonin.
What Is Melatonin?
Melatonin is a hormone secreted by the pineal gland that is responsible for a number of bodily functions, the topmost being your “body clock” or what’s also known as your circadian rhythm. Your circadian rhythm is basically what it sounds like; it’s the routine or schedule your body follows on a 24/7 basis. It’s the part of you that helps you know when waking up time is, when you need to eat and, most importantly, when it’s time for you to go to bed at night.
As I mentioned, there’s a reason we’re meant to sleep in the dark. That is because the production of melatonin relies solely on the darkness. When the sun goes down and you shut your light off to go to bed, your melatonin production picks up, allowing your body to ease into sleep. When the sun rises and you are once again in the light, the production slows down (this can be a reason why waking up early during the darker hours of the morning can be difficult for some – your body literally doesn’t believe it’s time to be awake).
Along with regulating your circadian rhythm, melatonin also helps monitor other essential bodily functions, particularly the functions that happen in a routine manner, such as menstrual cycles in women. Along with that, melatonin also helps with fighting inflammation, keeping your immune system strong, helping your thymus gland function properly and even preventing cancer.
If you think about it, you can kind of consider your melatonin as a manager or supervisor, making sure everything about your body is happening on time and in a timely manner.
When things start to get off time, however, that is when your body starts to feel just how important melatonin is to your overall ability to function. Melatonin is so natural and good at it’s job, it’s hard to appreciate its overall contribution until it is no longer producing properly.
Signs Your Melatonin Levels Are Down
Oftentimes, when something changes in your typical, daily routine (like if you start going to bed at sporadic times or sleep in late one day and wake up insanely early the next, etc.), your melatonin levels can get thrown off, leaving you hormonally imbalanced. You start to want to sleep when you’re supposed to be active and want to be active when you’re supposed to sleep – and the effects usually just go downhill from there.
Signs Of Melatonin Imbalance Manifests In Ways Such As:
- Exhaustion or grogginess during the day
- Depression (most people with depression are often found to have low levels of melatonin)
- Immune deficiencies
- Lack of coordination
- Inability to stay alert
- Mood disorders
Along with these downplaying effects, consistently lacking melatonin can potentially bring you down to an even more severe – and often threatening – level. It has been proven that inconsistent melatonin production can increase cancer rates in both men and women.
Studies have been done that tested employees who often worked “graveyard” or nighttime shifts. Working during the late night hours exposes you to the light of your work environment, therefore suppressing melatonin. The women of these studies experienced a 500% increase in breast cancer while the men had 40% higher rates of colorectal and bone cancer.
Restoring The Balance Of Your Melatonin Levels
If you are having consistent sleep trouble, can’t seem to stay awake during the day, are often down, suffer from depression, or are experiencing any of the signs listed above, looking into balancing your melatonin levels might be a good step for you to take.
Here Are 10 Ways To Help Boost Your Melatonin Production:
1. Be Sure To Get Bright Sunlight Exposure
Your pineal gland approximates the need for melatonin based on the amount of light you are exposed to during the daytime. If you don’t get much sunlight, your pineal gland won’t consider your need for melatonin very dire and therefore won’t produce as much melatonin when nighttime comes around.
2. Sleep In Complete Darkness (Or As Much As Possible)
Your body clock or circadian rhythm is very light sensitive, enough so that even the light from your radio clock or crack under the door can affect how well it functions. Cover your radio clock, keep electronic devices off, maybe even cover your windows with drapes. Or sleep with an eye mask.
3. Try Not To Use Loud Alarm Clocks
Being jolted awake in the morning can cause a lot of stress on your body, including your rhythmic body clock. If you do get yourself to a point where you’re getting a sufficient amount of sleep at night, you may not even need an alarm clock.
4. Keep Your Bedroom Temperature No Higher Than 70 Degrees (Fahrenheit)
People very often let their bedrooms become too warm. For optimal sleep, studies have shown that it’s best to keep your room around 60 – 68 degrees. There have also been further studies that have looked into why sleeping on cooler environments is better for your health. You can take a look here.
5. Take A Hot Bath 1 ½ – 2 Hours Before Bed
Taking a hot bath naturally raises your core temperature. The moment you step out of the bath, that temperature will quickly drop. That drop acts as a signal to your body that it’s ready to start going to sleep.
6. Avoid Staring At Bright Screens About An Hour Before Bed
The general blueish glow of your computer screen, TV, or phone trick your mind into thinking that it’s still daytime. This causes the production of melatonin to be stifled and therefore makes it more difficult for you to fall asleep.
7. Try To Get Some Sunshine In The Morning
It’s the light of the sun in the morning that really helps reset your circadian rhythm. Even just being exposed to the light for 10 – 15 minutes can have a significant impact on your system. Doing this consistently can also help strengthen your body clock, making it become less sensitive to radio clock lights during the night.
8. Eat Foods That Naturally Promote Melatonin Production
There are also several foods that you can eat that will help your body get back into a more natural, healthy rhythm. They include bananas, oats, pineapple, cherries, tomatoes, walnuts, sweet potatoes, oranges and several others. Keeping these foods in your diet will help keep your system balanced and support and strengthen your melatonin production.
There are of course several more ways that can help boost the production of melatonin, but these are some excellent ways to start. You might be wondering, “Can’t I just take a supplement?” You certainly can, though, it is suggested that you try and stick to more natural methods instead of supplementation, mostly because taking supplements can put you at risk of ingesting harmful chemicals and also won’t be enough to strengthen your circadian rhythm to its optimum level of effectiveness. Plus, supplementation can lead to dependency in some cases. You want your body to learn to sleep and wake on its own. Natural is always the best way to go.
Do you know of any other ways that help with melatonin production and getting better sleep at night? Feel free to share with us in the comments below!
Sara Wylie resides in Utah where she is currently working as an Editorial Intern for Fitlife.tv while also pursuing a career in writing. She hopes that through her words and fiery passion, she will be able to not only inspire others to seek out and nourish their own passions, but to also help others feel what it’s like to truly be alive.
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