Lack of sleep can be dangerous, causing fatigue and significant mental impairment. Chronic sleeplessness can also contribute to heart and memory problems as well as to immune deficiency which makes us more susceptible to infections.
There are some people who suffer from sleep disorders. However, almost all of us can benefit from some education and some good sleep habits.
What is melatonin?
Melatonin is a hormone that is produced by a part of our brain called pineal gland. Basically, it tells our body when it’s time to fall asleep and when it’s time to wake up. The amount of melatonin in the body remains very low during the daytime and gradually increases as nighttime approaches. The secretion of melatonin peaks in the middle of the night, and gradually falls during the second half of the night allowing for a gradual awakening.
What does interfere with restful sleep?
Anything that negatively affects production of melatonin can keep you awake at night:
- Exercising too close to the bedtime;
- Alcohol and tobacco;
- Eating high glycemic foods or eating before going to bed;
- Drinking coffee, tea, energy drinks or caffeinated soft drinks;
- Chronic pain.
How can you improve the production of melatonin?
1. Sleeping in total darkness is the most important factor supporting natural secretion of melatonin. However, it is really hard to find complete darkness these days, mostly because of street lights and numerous electronic devices we keep in our bedrooms. Sleeping masks are a great solution! Many stores carry them. Make sure the mask you are buying is soft and washable. A good sleeping mask will stay over your eyes all night without any problems.
2. Daily exposure to natural light also helps to improve natural secretion of melatonin. It might seem as an easy task, but think about how much time you spend outside during the day, especially in winter. Most people leave for work in the morning when it is still dark and come home in the evening when it is already dark. Make an effort to spend at least 20 minutes outside during the day light every day.
3. Stick to regular bed and wake times.
4. Develop a relaxing bed time routine. Some people find that taking a warm bath, listening to classical music or meditating helps them relax. I like to read for 15 to 20 minutes before going to bed. Find what works best for you.
5. A good quality melatonin supplement can help restore your circadian rhythms, especially, if you are experiencing the effects of jet leg or work different shifts.
And most importantly, do not play a super hero by sacrificing your sleep in order to accomplish more. Our body needs sleep to restore, regenerate and prepare for the next day. You owe it to yourself to get a good sleep every night!