Unfortunately, some things can mess with your melatonin levels, leaving you awake when you should be asleep – and dead when you should be alive. Find out what these melatonin-blockers are and how to beat them with these eight tips:
A 2011 Harvard study found that sitting in a dimly lit office all day might suppress your melatonin at night, affecting your sleep. On the contrary, the better illuminated your waking hours are, the more soundly you will sleep at night, says Swiss researchers. So when you arrive at work, raise your blinds and replace your bulbs with the “cool white” type – these emit light from the blue part of the spectrum, which delays your melatonin production.
Turn to melatonin-rich foods – such as cherries, raspberries, almonds, flaxseeds, walnuts and tomatoes – when your body runs low on the hormone. Although these foods won’t provide enough melatonin to help you sleep, they will bolster your disease defences. “Any melatonin, including that from plants, will be absorbed and used to provide antioxidant protection,” says Reiter.
Yes, melatonin’s in your brew. In a recent Spanish study, drinking beer boosted people’s blood levels of melatonin and, consequently, their antioxidant capacity.
When it comes to sleep, it pays to be disciplined. If you want your melatonin to tell you to sleep at the right time, then you need to make sure the rest of your routine happens with military precision: “Soldiers eat meals at the same time, exercise at the same time and sleep at the same time. Your body likes regimen. If you provide it with time cues throughout the day, your body will release melatonin at the right time, too,” says Dr W. Christopher Winter, medical director of The Sleep Center at Martha Jefferson Hospital in the US.
Keep all the electronics out of reach before you turn in, as the light from devices such as your TV, iPad, computer screen or smartphone will affect your melatonin levels. “Even short intervals of light at night immediately depress melatonin,” says Reiter. Turn off electronics at least two hours before bed, suggests Dr Winter, and block outside light with room-darkening curtains. Have night lights? Swop white bulbs with red ones, which have the least impact on melatonin.
More of this hormone isn’t better. Dr David Blask, a professor of structural cellular biology explains: “A lower dose of melatonin may be as effective as a higher dose. In some cases, large doses may actually diminish the response you’re trying to achieve.” Worse, you may stop responding to melatonin entirely if you regularly take a mega dose – in natural or supplement form – warns Dr Richard Wurtman, the MIT neuropharmacology professor who discovered melatonin’s role in sleep. His studies show that the effective dose for sleep is 0.3mg. So, if you use supplements, pick up a pill cutter and take a quarter or half of a 1mg pill.
Unlike sleeping pills, melatonin supplements don’t induce sleep. They actually initiate the sleep cycle, which actually begins several hours before you hit the sack. Try swallowing your supplement a few hours before darkness falls. As the melatonin enters your bloodstream, your body will think dusk has arrived early, so you’ll fall asleep more easily come bedtime.
The painkillers you pop to relieve your post-workout soreness may be keeping you awake. Taking a night-time dose of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as aspirin and ibuprofen may suppress the part of your nervous system that releases melatonin, says Reiter. Opt for acetaminophen, which may have less of an effect on melatonin. Next, check your prescription bottles: “If taken in the evening, beta-blockers can turn down melatonin production – or even turn it off at a high enough dose,” says Dr Blask. Some anti-depressants such as fluoxetine (Prozac) may also have this effect. If you’re often tired during the day, ask your doctor if you can take your meds earlier.