What is melatonin?
Melatonin is a natural hormone created by our body, is it our ‘sleep hormone’. It’s what makes you feel sleepy in the evening & keeps you asleep through the night.
It is a very important hormone as it promotes longevity, immune health & well-being due to sleep being a contributing factor to good mental health.
What does melatonin do?
When the sun starts to set the brain receives information from the eyes that it is dark. This information is passed through the optic nerve form the eye into the pineal gland, this is when melatonin production begins.
Humans in a modern society surrounded by technology & screens have not been able to adapt to these ‘new’ additions. Seeing blue light in the evenings after sunset can completely disrupt & reduce the amount of melatonin we produce naturally, meaning less optimised sleep.
Things that impact natural melatonin production negatively
• Blue light
• Looking at screens after sunset
• Light sleeping environment
• Eating too close to bedtime
• Having wifi on too close to your bed
• Drinking caffeine after 1pm
• Alcohol consumption
How does blue light affect melatonin production?
Blue light is both good & bad for sleep depending on how & when you absorb blue light. This is because the timing dictates how it affects melatonin production in humans at nighttime.
Going for walks in daylight, especially in direct sunlight is great for the production of melatonin in the evening time.
The reason for this is the blue light from the sun can help regulate the human body clock, meaning that it’ll reset to stay more awake in the day and then become tired after sunset.
So getting daylight from going on a walk every day, can help your body know when it’s the right time to produce melatonin.
Science has shown that blue light absorption in the evenings, as shown in this study, can be detrimental to sleep as it can suppress the body’s natural melatonin production.
The main place humans absorb blue light after sunset in todays world, is from screens. This is becoming a large problem across modern society.
With this suppression of melatonin, it is harder for people to get to sleep & their sleep quality is reduced significantly. This is why there it is more common for people to be using blue light blocking glasses in the evenings, that block out more than 90% of blue light.
The reason for wearing these is to help optimise & increase your natural production of melatonin, by blocking out blue light in the evenings.
Therefore, blue light shouldn’t always be seen as ‘bad light’, because if you receive natural blue light in the daytime it can be beneficial for you.
Caffeine and sleep
Drinking caffeine in the afternoon or evening can affect sleep negatively because it is a stimulant that has a 5 hour half life. That means that means that after 10 hours there can still be some caffeine left in the body after consumption.
The reason that this is bad is because caffeine works on the adrenal glands, which make you feel alert. The problem with this is, it can delay the onset of the production of melatonin.
When you’re trying to sleep you need the complete opposite feelings, like feeling relaxed. Caffeine can increase onset time to sleep by inhibiting the production of melatonin.
Because of this, it can also reduce the quality of sleep & and the total time asleep. Reducing your total sleep time over a long period could result in some negative health side effects.
How does alcohol affect sleep?
Contrary to what some people used to believe, alcohol does not help with sleep in any way. It has been used over the years to ‘help’ people fall asleep, as it is a sedative & can make you feel sleepy.
The truth is, when alcohol is in your system and you go to sleep, you aren’t really sleeping properly.
What’s happening is that the body has been sedated, it is not repairing & recovering through the different sleep cycles. There is a complete reduction in melatonin production in the body, hence why your body doesn’t go through all the sleep cycles properly.
A study showed how different levels of alcohol affected sleep. The results were as follows:
Low amounts of alcohol decreased sleep quality by 9.3%
(less than 2 drinks for men / less than 1 drink for women)
Moderate amounts of alcohol decreased sleep quality by 24%
(approximately 2 drinks for men / 1 drink for women)
High amounts of alcohol decreased sleep quality by 39.2%
(more than 2 drinks for men / more than 1 drink for women)
Now as you can see from these stats from the study, the effects of alcohol are very drastic on sleep markers.
Even just one alcoholic drink can disrupt sleep quality by nearly 10%. This is a huge number if you were to use alcohol before sleep for prolonged periods.
Meditation to fall asleep
Meditation has been proven to help with sleep, as it can help improve the amount of melatonin serum in your blood as shown in this study.
This could be due to the relaxed harmony between mind & body. We know that stress can cause us to have worse quality sleep, so it makes sense that meditation may be able to improve sleep markers.
It appears that meditation can be used to battle insomnia, as this study shows that mindfulness meditation could be a viable treatment. One important thing to note is that meditation is a skill that takes a lot of practice.
Once you have gained knowledge and experience practicing meditating, the potential to alleviate insomnia & improve sleep quality is something to really consider for your health & wellbeing.
What foods contain melatonin?
When looking for foods that contain melatonin, you can also look for is foods contain tryptophan. It’s a precursor to melatonin production, meaning it is the building blocks to the sleep hormone. The following foods contain melatonin:
• Fatty Fish
• Goji Berries
• Tart Cherries
Can you supplement with melatonin?
In the US you can buy melatonin over the counter in any store, but in the UK is has to be prescribed by a doctor.
But when taking any new supplement or drug, you should always speak to a medical professional or doctor first, even if you can buy the products over the counter.
Why is melatonin banned in the UK
Melatonin is not banned in the UK. It is actually legal to use within the UK & is deemed safe, it just has to be prescribed.
The reasons for this is that the long term effects of melatonin supplementation has not been studied.
The worry is that using melatonin consistently for years may decrease your natural production, which in theory could cause some health problems.
The current advice is to use melatonin supplementation for short periods of time, only for when you’re having sleep issues.
Benefits of melatonin
If you do get melatonin prescribed, some of the benefits include:
• Sleep wake cycles regulation
• Jetlag help – reset your clock
• For delayed sleep wake phase disorder
• Promote eye health
• Potential Anti-inflammatory
Sleep wake cycles that are slightly out of pattern can be potentially reset by taking melatonin.
This is why melatonin is used for jetlag to try and get the body to re-adjust to the time zone by taking melatonin at nighttime.
It can essentially help your body readjust to its surroundings, as humans are not adapted to moving time zones so quickly, through plane travel.
It is noted that melatonin can promote eye health, have anti-inflammatory properties & is able to reduce free radical damage.
If you do not want to take medication, you should maybe consider these melatonin alternatives.