How to get a good night's sleep - Melatonin, Light & Sleep by Lorna Driver-Davies from Wild Clinics, Lewes
Melatonin, Light & Sleep
By Lorna Driver-Davies, Senior Nutritional Therapist at Wild Clinics, Lewes.
Sleep is incredibly important - if you are yet to be convinced or aren’t making it a priority, you may well be finding it hard to get to sleep. With my clients I focus a great deal on 'nailing' the sleep subject, because of the physical and mental benefits and that while you can be eating well, if you are not getting enough sleep - body biochemistry, physical and mental responses or mechanisms may still struggle. In this article I focus on the hormone melatonin and its role in sleep.
What is melatonin?
Melatonin is sometimes known as the ‘sleep hormone’. One of its roles is to help regulate our sleep-wake cycles.
Melatonin is produced by the pineal gland in our brain, partly in response to changing light levels. So, as it gets dark in the evening – or we’re exposed to less light – melatonin levels rise. This helps us to feel sleepy towards bedtime. In the morning when we wake up, exposure to bright light shuts down melatonin production so we stop feeling sleepy and can get on with our day.
As well as affecting sleep, melatonin also has many other important roles, including:
· Antioxidant activity. So, if we don’t make enough melatonin, this could speed up ageing processes in the body.
· The timing and release of reproductive hormones, affecting ovulation in women. So, it’s essential for normal hormone balance at all ages and for fertility.
· Risk of disease development (lack of melatonin may increase risk).
· Low levels are linked to mood disorders and depression.
· Appetite regulation (better sleep is linked to eating normally and not over-eating)
· Affects how we experience jet lag.
Why do we need to be concerned about melatonin?
Bright or ‘blue’ light exposure in the evenings – due to our modern lifestyles and habits – can greatly reduce our body’s natural production of melatonin. One of the most common symptoms of lack of melatonin is not feeling sleepy at bedtime. So, the amount of sleep we get – and the quality of that sleep – can greatly suffer.
As well as the negative consequences of a lack of quality sleep, there can also be direct knock-on effects of the lack of melatonin in the areas mentioned above – such as fertility and disease risk.
What suppresses melatonin at night?
The main culprit is the blue spectrum light from electronic devices – smart phones, computers, tablets, and TVs. This is closely followed by bright lighting in your home, or in fact any bright electric lighting.
So, what can we do to improve our melatonin levels?
Here is your ‘call to action’: the steps you can take right now for a better night’s sleep and improving your melatonin.
1. Devices / TV
· Install or set up a blue light filter on your devices that automatically changes the screen to a warmer colour and reduces blue light towards night time. An example is ‘Night Shift’ on Apple devices. Some computers/laptops also come with built-in software, or you can install F.Lux or similar (see ‘Resources’ below). Set the timer so your screen changes colour at least two hours before you need to go to bed.
· From around 7pm, wear blue light-blocking indoor glasses when looking at any devices (phone, computer, tablet or watching TV) – even if you have already set up blue light-blocking software. See ‘Resources’.
· Come completely off your phone at least one hour before bed. This means no social media (Facebook, Instagram, etc.), no texting, chatting with friends online, emailing, etc. As well as the light, the stimulation from this activity can stop you feeling sleepy.
· Keep your phone and other devices out of your bedroom at night, so you’re not tempted to look at them just before bed, or in the night if you wake. If you currently use your phone as your alarm clock, buy a separate alarm clock (although not one with a bright LED light).
2. Lighting in your home
· From around 7pm (or sunset, whichever is later) use only warm ambient lighting in your home. You can buy incandescent light bulbs for this purpose (see ‘Resources’), or use table lamps that give a soft glow. Turn off all bright overhead lights and never use strip fluorescent lighting in the evening.
3. In your bedroom
· Only use ambient lighting in the evening, as above. Especially important when you’re relaxing in bed before sleep.
· Install blackout blinds or curtains in your bedroom to stop light coming in from outside. If you have these but still get light creeping in around the sides, search for ‘blindsides’ for this exact issue (see ‘Resources’).
· Remove, cover or turn away any lights from electrical equipment such as LED alarm clocks while you’re sleeping.
· If you get up in the night, don’t turn on the light (even table lamps) if you can avoid it. Use a torch with a warm light to guide you in the dark.
4. Morning / In the daytime
· First thing in the morning when you wake up, open the curtains/blinds and let light flood into your room. Bright light in the morning helps reduce melatonin to make you feel more awake – but also helps regulate your circadian (24-hour) rhythm to help your body know when it needs to make melatonin. You could also look at dawn simulating lamps which work as an alarm clock – for example -https://www.lumie.com/
· Get outside for a walk in the morning, for the same reason. Light outside – even on an overcast day – is many times brighter than the light indoors, even if you have all your curtains open. This could just be walking part of the way to work for 20 minutes.
Blue light-blocking glasses: Simply search online for ‘blue light blocking glasses’. Amazon has a good selection. Choose a pair with amber-tinted lenses; if they’re too dark, watching TV or reading text on a screen can be difficult. They don’t need to be expensive – they start from £10–£15. But if you want a cool style, you may need to pay more!
F.Lux (blue light filter software to install on your computer): https://justgetflux.com/
I highly recommend reading more on this subject:
'Why we sleep' by Matthew Walker
'Sleep' by Nick Littlehales'