The pattern of waking during the day when it is light and sleeping at night when it is dark is a natural part of human life. Only recently have scientists begun to understand the alternating cycle of sleep and waking and how it is related to daylight and darkness.
A key factor in how human sleep is regulated is exposure to light or to darkness. Exposure to light stimulates a nerve pathway from the retina in the eye to an area in the brain. There a special center that initiates signals to other parts of the brain that control the key sleep hormone called melatonin, but also body temperature and other functions that play a role in making us feel sleepy or wide awake.
If you are finding it difficult to achieve good sleep it may well be because of the fact that, as we age, our bodies seem to produce less and less amounts of this sleep hormone called melatonin (which is created in the pineal gland located in the front of the brain), or because your natural circadian body clock’s rhythm has been disturbed by either jet lag from travelling across international time zones, or you may be a shift or night worker and therefore probably not getting enough natural sunlight which also contributes to intermittent sleep problems, reduced melatonin also increases the risk of long-term health problems like cancer etc.
In the US and other parts of the world outside the EU, it’s possible to buy melatonin over the counter as a food supplement, although it’s important to note that the synthetic form of melatonin seems to work far less well than the completely natural form.
However in Europe, particularly the UK, unless you have a prescription from your doctor, it’s illegal to be able buy melatonin ‘over-the-counter’ in the chemists or health food shops unlike in the US.
However this need not be a problem. There are in fact completely natural ways of boosting your levels of melatonin production naturally. There are a number of melatonin boosting fruits and foods. Top of the fruit list is the pineapple. Amazingly researchers have found that pineapples boost melatonin by 266% and next at the top of the list are bananas that boosts melatonin by 180%, followed by oranges that increase melatonin by approximately 47%. Other foods that boost melatonin are oats, sweetcorn, tomatoes, rice and barley.
So not only can you boost your melatonin by adding these fruits and food elements to your daily diet, but you can also improve melatonin production by getting enough natural sunlight in the daytime and then by also reducing screen time from the use of computers, iPads and mobiles that emanate ‘blue light’ which interferes with the production of melatonin late night by fooling.
And when you go to bed is important of course that you have darkness, ideally complete darkness which also helps to encourage the natural production of melatonin in the pineal gland in the brain. So if your blinds let into much light, either replace them and or use a sleep mask to achieve real darkness.
It is also important to consider the fact that some prescription drugs inhibit the production of melatonin, these include beta-blockers, anti-anxiety drugs, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, steroids and some SSRI antidepressants. If you are taking one of these medications I recommend you avoid taking them in the hours just before you go to bed if possible.
As always, I wish you a great night’s sleep.