Naturally Increase Melatonin for Better Sleep and Improved Health –
This is a guest post my brother in law who lives a Paleo lifestyle and is very interested in how sleep impacts health.
Naturally Increase Melatonin for Better Sleep and Improved Health
Why Melatonin is Good Stuff by Micah Glasser
Most people know that melatonin is important for sleep, but few seem to be aware of the other powerful roles it plays in the human body. (link)
There have been many studies in the last couple decades that have uncovered Melatonin’s role as a powerful antioxidant (here, and here) and anti inflammatory agent (here, and here). Inflammation is one of the biggest precursors of most major diseases such as cancer, Alzheimer disease, and diabetes.
Melatonin is good stuff, really good stuff in fact. So lets talk a little bit about how it’s produced in the body and its primary role, and then we can talk about how you can immediately take action to naturally increase its levels. I will give you a solution that you can start implementing today to improve your overall well being.
Melatonin and Circadian Rhythm
Melatonin is known as the “darkness hormone” and is naturally produced as a part of your circadian rhythm after the sun goes down provided you are in darkness. In order for you to be healthy and to have healthy hormonal responses it is very important that your internal circadian rhythm is synchronized with the day/night cycle (also called the diurnal cycle).
We all have an internal clock located in a part of the brain called the suprachiasmatic nuclei (SCN) of the hypothalamus. This part of the brain is a master time keeper and it regulates when certain hormones are excreted, the temperature of the body, level of alertness, etc. This master timekeeper in our brains ( the SCN) relies on signals from the outside world known as zeitgebers to help it synchronize with the day/night cycle). In other words the SCN keeps perfect time like a good watch, but also like a good watch it must be set correctly in order to be of any good. Zeitgebers are the signals we need to send to the brain so that the watch (SCN) is telling the right time and giving us the right hormones when we need them. We need to understand this in order to maximize Melatonin production.
Naturally Increase Melatonin for Better Sleep and Improved Health
Fortunately there are really only a few of these Zeitgebers and only one that is really important. So lets discuss the really important one: light. Light is the most important Zeitgeber. The absence of light tells the SCN that the sun has gone down, and the appearance of light tells the SCN that the sun has come up. These are the two most important signals the SCN needs to synchronize its clock.
Now lets talk for a bit about the ancestral environment and how our adaption to that environment is causing us some trouble today when it comes to these signals and our health. The Homo genus arose around 2.3 million years ago on the African savannah near the equator. On the equator the Earth receives 12 hours of day and 12 hours of dark year round. So it was under these conditions that our ancestors lived and evolved for eons of time. This is a strong indicator that 12 hours of darkness is an ideal amount for humans. So our ancestors were able to make melatonin for 12 hours continuously, every night, year round, for millions of years. Lets compare that to the average modern industrial/computer age human.
Night Lighting is Disrupting your Circadian Rhythm and Killing Your Mellatonin
According to one study the average person sleeps about six hours a night, even though they may be in bed for longer. In this age of lighting and computer screens most of us will not experience darkness until we actually go to bed, and many wake up to look at their smartphone or get up to pee and turn a light on. Any time a light is turned on or you look at a screen your melatonin production is either halted or severely curtailed. These facts indicate to me that most people living today are probably lucky get to a few hours of melatonin a night.
Now there are two big problems with exposing yourself to nighttime lighting. The obvious one that we just discussed is that your all-important melatonin has been disrupted. The second less obvious problem that is rarely discussed is called chronodisruption. And this brings us back to our brain’s internal clock the SCN. Chronodisruption is what happens when you send your SCN the wrong signal and your brain’s perfect time keeping watch stops keeping the right time. In other words your internal clock and the external day/night cycle become desynchronized. This might not seem like a big deal, but it is.
Lets say you are exposed to fairly strong light an hour after the sun goes down because you are watching a movie on your LCD TV. Your SCN receives this signal and advances the circadian rhythm forward one hour. Since this occurrence is pandemic in the industrial world lets explore what happens. When your circadian rhythm is synchronized as soon as the Sun goes down you begin producing melatonin, this will peak around 2 AM and as it recedes your cortisol will begin to rise until it peaks shortly after dawn. However if your SCN is shifted forward an hour you will take longer to fall asleep due to less melatonin and you will find it harder to wake up on time due to less cortisol. If you do this every night you may find yourself utterly sleep deprived by the weekend at which time you will catch back up on your sleep (sound familiar?).
Ok, So what can be done about this? The solution to these problems is fairly simple but it does require some diligence in application. Some of you may have heard that only blue light disrupts melatonin and so wearing blue blocker glasses will help. This is partly correct but does not go far enough. The unfortunate fact of the matter is that recent studies have shown that blue and green light disrupt melatonin and act as powerful zeitgebers.
The solution is red lenses and lighting. Red blocks both green and blue frequencies of light and creates a physiological state of darkness for SCN. This is the solution that both myself and my wife, Ellen Weeks, use in our home. First we both have red safety glasses that can be ordered from Amazon very inexpensively. Second, we have red light bulbs (we use these) that can be purchased on Amazon or at any local hardware store like Lowe’s. We got some of ours at Lowe’s and they were labeled as party bulbs. We maintain 12 hours of darkness by donning our glasses and turning off lights in the house except red lights from 7 PM to 7AM. Also you may want to purchase rubylith sheet (found here) and velcro (found here) and place the sheets over any screen you may use at night before bed if you don’t want to wear glasses.
This may seem a bit drastic to some, but I want to reassure you that the results are really amazing. Also the nightly switch over to all red has become a sort of signal for me that it is time to relax. You can feel the melatonin release and you begin to relax and get very sleepy. I assure you that if you try this you will end up going to bed much earlier and awake with a natural burst of cortisol in the morning with more energy than you remember having in a long time.
So there you go. You now have the knowledge to drastically increase endogenous melatonin and there by sleep better, have more energy, fight cancer, protect your brain from Alzheimer disease, slim down, recover faster from stress, slow down the aging process, and protect yourself from metabolic disorders. So no more excuses, at the very least order some glasses and start wearing them for two hours before bed. You will wonder why everyone isn’t doing it.
Next part I will discuss the relationship between 12 hour nights and segmented sleep and how a simple sleep hack could supercharge your brain with a nightly dose of prolactin.