Melatonin is released from the pineal gland and is important in our sleep-wake cycle. Melatonin is what triggers our sleep signal and is manufactured using tryptophan. Melatonin and serotonin are closely linked. People who don’t get sufficient sleep or struggle to fall asleep and stay asleep may find that it affects their mood. The levels of melatonin in the body is cyclical throughout the day, the levels should peak at night and make you drowsy and ready to sleep. The pineal gland, which makes melatonin, is very sensitive to light, especially blue light. Our activity on electronic devices may be affecting our melatonin levels and our ability to fall asleep and have a restful night. Melatonin is also linked to our appetite, having imbalanced melatonin levels can cause us to crave sugary foods during the day.
Sleep is so important in health, being sleep deprived can cause many symptoms. It can affect your mood leading to depression, it can suppress your immune system and make you more likely to pick up common colds. Your body uses sleep to repair itself, most people need between 7-8 hours a night for optimal health. Sleep is also linked to weight gain. People sleeping less than 5 hours a night tend to be more likely to gain weight as well as to have an increased craving for sugary, high calorie foods – these food choices can lead to imbalanced blood sugar and weight gain.
Magnesium and tryptophan are both important to produce melatonin in the body. Making sure you get adequate levels of these foods during the day helps the body to have all the raw materials it needs to make melatonin. Tryptophan is carried to the brain using carbohydrates, so if you are deficient in melatonin, you may crave carbohydrates.
Symptoms of low melatonin levels:
- Struggle to fall asleep at night
- Struggle to stay asleep throughout the night
- Fatigue and never feeling rested
- Depression or low mood
- Craving sugary high calorie food or stimulants to keep going
Sleep well food sources
Tryptophan: nuts and seeds (pumpkin, sunflower, sesame), legumes, chickpeas and soya products, tuna, salmon, turkey, chicken, Lamb, shellfish, oats, bananas, mangoes, dried dates, milk, yogurt, cottage cheese, eggs.
Magnesium: Green leafy vegetables, nuts, seeds, dairy products, fish and meat. If you prefer to supplement magnesium, there are many options. There are topical skin sprays, flakes for the bath or vitamin supplements.
As melatonin is a cyclical hormone, it’s important to establish a routine for bed time. Try and go to bed at the same time every night. This helps to get your body into the habit of when it is time to sleep.
Blue light blockers
Blue light is emitted from computers, phones, tablets, TV’s and other electronic devices. It is also around during the daylight hours. Exposure to blue light during the day helps to desensitise your body to blue light at night. Going outside during the day is helpful in getting a good nights sleep. If you have to use electronics within the two hours before you want to go to sleep, using blue light blocking goggles can be really helpful. They prevent the blue light reaching your brain and can be bought for around £10 online. (Uvex is the brand I use) If you are a shift worker, theses goggles can help to get to sleep during the day.
No devices or bright lights two hours before bed
It takes around 2 hours for melatonin levels to reach their peak and cause you to become drowsy and ready to sleep. Either stop using all devices two hours prior to bed, or if you need to use devices, use the blue light blocking goggles. It may be useful to shuffle around your night time routine. Leave washing dishes, bathing and teeth brushing to the two hours prior to falling asleep. This keeps you away from the devices. Reading or journal writing by candlelight is a lovely relaxing way to end the day.
Some people struggle to turn off their brain at bed time. As they lie in bed, their brain starts to run through lists of worries or to do lists. A way to combat this is to use a meditative phrase. By concentrating on repeating a phrase in your mind, you aren’t able to worry about things. Combine this with deep, slow breathing makes it easier to fall asleep. There are lots of meditation videos to listen to online.
Your lifestyle and diet affects the quality of your sleep. If you struggle with sleep please get in touch for a personalised plan.
The above image is courtesy of Feelart at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.
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Rondanelli M, Opizzi A, Monteferrario F, Antoniello N, Manni R and Klersy C (2011) The effect of melatonin, magnesium and zinc on primary insomnia in long term facility residents in Italy: a double blind placebo-controlled clinical trial. Journal of the American Geriatrics Society 59(1): 82-90.