It is estimated that about 40% of adults in Canada have some trouble sleeping. Unfortunately, this can have consequences that go far beyond feeling tired the next day. People who average fewer than six hours of sleep a night may be at risk for developing hypertension, diabetes, obesity, depression, heart attack and stroke.
The sleep hormone
Melatonin is known as the sleep hormone because its key role helps initiate and maintain restful sleep throughout the night. Melatonin is secreted by the pineal gland in the brain and is regulated by light. This means when it’s dark, your body produces more melatonin – getting your body ready for sleep. When it’s light, your production of melatonin drops, preparing your body to wake up and to stay alert during the day.
Factors that negatively impact your melatonin levels
As we age, natural melatonin levels slowly drop. Some older adults make very small amounts of it or none at all. Being exposed to blue light in the evening such as those from electronic devices, too little light during the day, jet lag and poor vision, can disrupt your body’s normal melatonin cycle. Other factors that may affect melatonin production include alcohol, caffeine, stress and physical activity before bed, all of which can lead to restlessness and trouble sleeping.
Natural solutions to boost your melatonin production
It’s best to increase your melatonin production through healthy lifestyle choices before considering melatonin supplementation. Here are some simple suggestions to follow:
- Increase your daylight exposure, particularly in the morning. Try to take time out of your busy schedule to go for a walk. Daytime exercise and natural light exposure will promote regular and higher melatonin secretion at night time.
- Develop a regular sleep schedule and get to bed early. Late nights can alter melatonin production making you drowsy during the day but alert in the evening. During the summer months this may be difficult due to the extended daylight. Melatonin production is increased by darkness, so you may want to consider using black out curtains or blinds in your bedroom.
- Turn off all electronics a couple of hours prior to your targeted bedtime.
- Find constructive ways to deal with your stress. Stress causes your cortisol levels to rise, which combats the actions of melatonin.
- If you suspect that physical activity within 2 hours of bedtime might be affecting your sleep, try moving it to another time in the day.
- Avoid caffeine and alcohol before bedtime and ensure you’re eating a balanced diet. Nutrient deficiencies have shown to modify your melatonin production