Originally published on RxGirl on Thursday, 19 June 2014
Melatonin is a hormone produced by the pineal gland in the brain which regulates the wake-sleep cycle. Production is turned on later in the evening when lights are turned off for bedtime. However, there are a number of poor habits which people commonly engage in which interfere with the body’s production of melatonin, with harmful results such as impaired immune response, increased rate of cellular aging, and increasing the risk of cancer formation.
Basically, those late nights you spend watching TV or reading are interfering with optimal health. As soon as a light is turned on at night, you send a signal to your brain that it is daytime. Production of melatonin ceases and does not resume when you turn the light off either.
Shorter wavelengths (red, orange, yellow) of light are less detrimental than white or blue light and should be used in the evening. I love the salt lamp I have in my bedroom and try to use that light as my sole illumination in the bedroom as much as possible at night.
Why is it so important to preserve the body’s natural production of melatonin? Because melatonin is a potent antioxidant and excellent for reducing inflammation throughout the body, including the brain.
Implement the following guidelines to optimize the body’s production of melatonin:
1. Try to get daily bright sun exposure. Production of melatonin approximates the contrast between bright sun exposure during the day and complete darkness in the evening.
2. Turn off your computer and TV at least one hour before going to bed. Both computers and televisions emit blue light which interferes with the body’s normal production of melatonin.
3. Sleep without any lights on. The darker your room is while you sleep, the better chance you have of allowing your body to produce melatonin without interruption.
4. Drop the thermostat to 60 to 70 degrees.
If you think your melatonin levels are low or you have lab work demonstrating low melatonin, and you also suffer from insomnia, you might want to supplement with melatonin tablets. Beware of the dosage, and keep it at 0.5 to 3 milligrams maximum dosage each night. At higher doses, melatonin can have hypnotic effects on some individuals, and on others, a paradoxical hyperaware state may manifest.
On a personal note, I had lab work early this year which demonstrated low melatonin, but I wasn’t suffering from insomnia. A colleague insisted I supplement with 3 milligrams of melatonin per night, which resulted in anxiety and a completely sleepless night for all of the nights I took melatonin.
Another caution: If you are trying to get pregnant, you must avoid taking melatonin supplements because they interfere with fertility.