The Ultimate Guide to Melatonin & Sleep
You have (most likely) experienced it at least once in your life — a sleepless night spent tossing and turning in bed, your mind wide-awake and racing with thoughts as the hours slowly tick by. Or you have woken up from a deep sleep at 3 or 4 in the morning and cannot fall back to sleep. Do these scenarios sound all too familiar?
There is no question about it — sleep is vital to health, mood, energy, and more. But sleep, by itself, is not enough. To get the best possible sleep, you also need darkness. The human body is designed to sleep in darkness.
Everyone has a 24-hour internal clock (aka circadian rhythm) that controls their body’s natural sleep-wake cycle, fluctuating throughout the day based on the rising and setting of the sun. It is a rhythm that impacts our biological processes at the fundamental level. And the primary hormone responsible for regulating this dance between light and dark is melatonin. As darkness falls, melatonin levels increase naturally, leading to that drowsy, ready-for-sleep feeling.
Modern Habits that Hinder Melatonin Production
People have found lots of ways to fight the natural sleep-wake instinct, thereby suppressing their own melatonin production. The biggest offenders:
- Excessive caffeine intake
- Artificial bright light exposure at night
- Blue light from electronic devices
- Drugs, particularly NSAIDs and beta-blockers for high blood pressure
- Nutrient deficiencies, namely folate, magnesium, and zinc
More About Melatonin
Melatonin is a potent antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, immune modulator, and master “repair” hormone. It influences everything from cellular health to mental acuity. As an antioxidant, melatonin helps scavenge free radicals and reduce oxidative stress. Since melatonin is both water- and fat-soluble, it moves easily through cell membranes, cleaning up free radicals where they do the most damage. Melatonin has also been shown to protect mitochondria and can even help protect DNA.
Top uses: Studies have shown that melatonin supplements help alleviate jet lag, certain sleep disorders in adults and kids, pre-surgery anxiety, and shift work side effects, among other benefits. It has even been shown to kill cancer cells. And more recently, melatonin proved helpful in some Covid cases. More research is needed to fully understand how the hormone benefits those with Covid.
Melatonin and cancer: Reducing oxidative stress is an indirect way to fight cancer, but melatonin also has a more direct impact: The hormone helps to kill cancer cells by inducing apoptosis, the programmed cell death that is often turned off in tumors. In addition, melatonin inhibits tumor blood vessel growth, which can help starve tumors. Melatonin has also been shown to reduce symptoms associated with cancer, as well as side effects of chemotherapy and radiation. At this point, however, it is not clear whether supplemental melatonin can prevent cancer. More research needs to be done.
Optimize Your Melatonin Production
Use these tips to support healthy melatonin production:
- Maintain a regular bedtime each night between 10p.m. – 11p.m., sleeping in a dark room.
- Get plenty of bright light exposure during the day and reduce exposure to artificial lights before bed.
- If you live near outdoor, all-night lights, invest in blackout curtains.
- Cover up those blue lights on rechargeable toothbrushes, phones, cable boxes, computer screens, etc. — they can all suppress melatonin production.
- Add some melatonin-rich foods to your evening meal or snack. Pineapples, bananas, oranges, cherries, oats, corn, barley, and tomatoes provide extra melatonin, as well as precursors that improve the body’s melatonin production. Tryptophan is a precursor to melatonin and helps us feel relaxed and sleepy. High-tryptophan foods include turkey, bananas, and lentils.
Melatonin Dos and Don’ts
Here are a few suggestions for using melatonin supplements safely and getting the most from them:
- Don’t take melatonin if you are pregnant, as it can affect female reproductive hormones.
- Don’t give melatonin to someone with dementia (unless directed by a physician).
- Do not take high doses (more on this below) — as little as 0.5 mg of melatonin can be therapeutic.
- Don’t use melatonin supplements if you are taking any of the following drugs: blood thinners, anticonvulsants, anti-diabetic medication, sedatives, psychostimulants, blood pressure medication, or immunosuppressants.
- Do get the timing right — it is best to take melatonin at bedtime or 30 minutes beforehand.
- Do combine melatonin with synergistic antioxidants — alpha lipoic acid, glutathione, selenium, and vitamins A, C, and D3.
Important: Why You Need More Than Melatonin for Sleep
Taking a small amount of melatonin at bedtime, less than 1 mg, can help you to fall asleep at the right time, sleep more soundly, and wake up with more energy. Too much melatonin, however, can leave you feeling groggy the next day. Keep in mind that melatonin is a powerful hormone. In the UK, for example, melatonin is only available by prescription. More melatonin does not equal better.
The best sleep solution? Try a restorative sleep repair formula that contains a small amount of melatonin along with a blend of powerful herbs that work during sleep to improve your nighttime repair processes and support your organs and systems, including your brain, nervous, and digestive systems.
True or False?
- I don’t need much sleep. I’m just wired that way.
- When I sleep doesn’t matter. Sleeping in the daytime is every bit as valuable as sleeping at night.
- If I miss sleep during the week, I can always catch up on the weekends.
False, false, and false! Humans are built to sleep. Even more importantly, we are built to sleep at night, around the same time every night. A lack of sleep or poor-quality sleep can hinder critical repair processes and generate inflammation, a major driver of cancer and other illnesses.
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