Melatonin is a hormone produced by the pineal gland in the brain. It is released in the evening with the onset of lower light frequencies and peaks after 4- hours sleep in complete darkness.
Melatonin release at night signals all biological systems the timing for sleep and recovery. If the secretion of melatonin is delayed or insufficient, it has detrimental effects on sleep and general health.
The hormone melatonin is not only a sleep regulator but an antioxidant as well. The antioxidant properties play an essential role in cell and organ repair. In fact, all chronic diseases can be linked to melatonin deficiency.
Before opting for melatonin supplementation, you should apply these essential strategies on how to enhance melatonin levels naturally:
1. Morning light exposure. Use natural sunlight if you can. If not, buy a dawn simulator and wake up with its morning light simulation. Light exposure is the number one time cue for our biological system.
Light sets the Master Clock in the brain, and all other biological clocks in the cells and organ systems follow the pace. Take off your sunglasses and get enough natural light throughout the day in your eyes and on your skin.
Exposure to natural light frequencies might be enough for chronic insomniacs to get back to sleep. It is as simple as it sounds. Just count the hours you are exposed to the natural light. You might be surprised how deficient you are.
Most modern humans are almost alienated from natural light frequencies. Light intensity is measured in Lux. Feel free to compare the light intensity in your environment to the natural light. Office light has around 500–1000 Lux and daylight up to 10 000 Lux. The indoor light environment is only a fraction of natural light.
2. Eat a tryptophan-rich breakfast to jumpstart your day. Tryptophan converts in melatonin, so start consuming the following superfoods which contain a high amount of tryptophan: almonds, peanuts, pumpkin seeds, nuts, watermelon seeds, spirulina, tofu, cottage cheese, yoghurt, kefir and all kinds of meat or fish.
Important! Check your food allergies before opting for tryptophan-rich foods.
Food intolerance can be a significant cause for insomnia. If you have a deficiency in tryptophan, you are more likely to have a deficiency in serotonin and melatonin.
3. Lower your blue light frequencies in the afternoon. Install F.lux or IRIS on all your electronic devices to simulate evening light frequencies, so your eyes scan the right time of the day and transmit the message to the brain to switch the gears. Alternatively, consider using blue light blocking glasses.
4. Come down and de-stress in the evening to lower cortisol levels. Apps like Headspace and Calm can help you to wind down. Studies show that people who meditate regularly are producing more melatonin than people who do not.
5. Absolute darkness at night is the most crucial requirement for melatonin release. If the eyes detect even a dim light at night, they transmit this information to the brain which can’t tell anymore if it is daytime or night. Eliminate all screens and electronic devices from your bedroom and consider buying shades for your windows or use an eye mask.
6. Food is an essential circadian time cue. Eat your last meal 3- hours before bedtime. But don’t go to bed hungry. Your body will identify this as a lack of energy and might wake you up.
If you must eat before bed, eat a spoon of honey or something light not to overcharge your digestive system. After a period of adaptation, your body will get used to eating less at night, and you won’t feel hungry during the night.
7. Lower your bedroom temperature. An ideal temperature would be 19 degrees Celsius. Lower ambient temperature is a time cue for sleep and regeneration. Try various temperatures and make sure you feel comfortable. If it is too cold, you won’t fall asleep or stay asleep either.
8. Exclude Wi-Fi and Electromagnetic Fields from your sleeping environment. Devices which are emitting EMF with Wi-Fi and BlueTooth interfere with our health in many ways. The topic raises more and more concern in scientific communities.
Don’t sleep with your cell phone next to your bed or under your pillow. Install a central Wi-Fi switch in your house that can be turned off at night. Turn off all computers, phones and other mobile devices.
9. Do all your most stressful activities early in the day and keep the creative tasks for the afternoon. Stress stimuli before bedtime inhibit melatonin release.
10. Exercise is great in the afternoon or early evening, but high-intensity training close to bedtime can destroy your sleep.
11. A low dose of melatonin can be helpful once in a while if the light environment is adjusted. Check out my article for melatonin supplementation tips.
Please note that wisely adjusted Circadian Rhythm trumps every supplement or diet.