Do you have trouble falling asleep – or staying asleep? You may have low melatonin production. Melatonin is the hormone that makes us feel sleepy; it helps us to fall asleep and stay asleep. Melatonin production typically starts before bedtime, increases sharply, then falls back to normal shortly after we awaken.
Think back to a time when you went camping. Or when you were in a place without electricity – like after a bad snow storm or hurricane? Do you remember how you got sleepy shortly after the sun went down and how you woke up with the sun? You may have explained your sleepiness as your ability to cope with the environment – because, let’s face it, there’s just not much to do in the evenings without electricity. But, there’s actually more to it – and it has to do with our natural melatonin production.
When your eyes detect light, that signal travels down the optic nerve, past the eye, and to a part of the brain called the hypothalamus. There, the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) sends out signals to other parts of the brain. Light raises our body temperature and the production of stimulating hormones like cortisol. It also shuts down melatonin so we feel awake.
When your eyes detect darkness, the opposite happens. Body temperature and stress hormones go down. And, this darkness also turns on the production of melatonin production from the pineal gland (pinh-knee—uhl)…which makes us feel sleepy.
Electronics and Melatonin
Though melatonin production typically increases in the evening time, realize that light from any source, not just the sun, could be shutting down the very hormone that is supposed to help us fall asleep or stay asleep. The pineal gland will only produce melatonin if the person is in a dimly lit environment.To max out our natural melatonin production so we can sleep soundly, we want to reduce the bright light from lamps, television, laptops, and our phones – before bedtime, not after hopping into bed.
Think you can get around this by just taking a melatonin supplement? Sorry, it doesn’t work. Melatonin is often referred to as the “Dracula of hormones” because it only comes out in the dark. In fact, bright lights can completely cancel out the effects of 5mg of melatonin.
So, dim the lights in the evening, shut down the electronics at least an hour before bedtime, and then keep the bedroom as dark as possible all night long. Just shutting your eyes, BTW isn’t enough. Light can pass through your eye lids. So, turn off the hall light, use blackout shades if light is coming through the windows, and use a dim night light in the bathroom instead of turning on the light. Oh, and don’t sneak a peak at your phone in the middle of the night. Yes, even that short exposure of light is enough to tell your brain…wake up, it’s morning!
Hope you have a good night’s sleep!