By Mariza Halliday
A good night’s sleep is one of the most important acts of self-care. When we’re falling behind in one area of our busy lives, always looking for that extra hour to our day – sleep is often the first sacrifice we make. It’s no secret that sleep is necessary for our physical health and emotional well-being. We’ve denied ourselves proper rest and sleep consistently enough to paint a picture of the glorified sleepless hero: the one who is always busy, who maintains a social life over weekends and is a perfect mom functioning on little to no sleep. We wear our sleepless nights like a badge of honour, but at what cost? Various studies have found sleep deprivation not only affects cognitive function but can also negatively affect your ability to carry out essential bodily tasks like digestion. Studies have also found that people who don`t sleep well tend to have a very low tolerance to stress and low empathy which explains why some people become nervous and suffer from anxiety when they don’t get enough sleep.
The reasons for sleep deprivation are as numerous and diverse as we are, but most can be traced back to a few common themes: anxiety, workload, clinical insomnia, stress, hormone imbalance, new parenthood, or a combination thereof. Getting a proper nights’ rest on a regular basis isn’t just a good idea, it’s an essential one. One of the biggest factors when it comes to your sleep cycle is Melatonin.
WHAT IS MELATONIN?
It is a hormone that’s made by the pineal gland in the brain. It is primarily responsible for regulating your body’s circadian rhythm to manage your natural sleep cycle. The production and release of Melatonin is connected to the time of day, increasing when it’s dark and decreasing when it’s light. Melatonin is also a renowned natural sleep aid and is used across the world as a popular dietary supplement. In addition to improving your natural sleep cycle, Melatonin is also involved in managing a healthy immune system, blood pressure, and cortisol levels.
As we get older, our natural Melatonin production declines. Signs of a Melatonin deficiency include the following:
• Restless legs syndrome
• Sleep problems – including insomnia and difficulty falling/staying asleep
• Changes in mood
• Menopause symptoms, PMS and menstrual irregularities
• Intestinal symptoms
• Increased aging process
Other studies have shown the benefits of Melatonin in weight-loss, cardiac function, breast cancer/ prostate cancer prevention, mitochondrial function, Parkinson’s disease symptoms, high blood pressure, Alzheimer’s, fertility, Type 2 diabetes and immune function. Melatonin supplements can help, but there are a few things you can do to maximize your natural Melatonin production, such as…
GET MORE SLEEP!
This is not always as easy as it sounds for some individuals, but it is the best way.
LOVE THE DARK
Melatonin production is increased by darkness so use blackout curtains or blinds in your bedroom. Artificial light in the bedroom should be minimized and therefore TVs, mobile phones and bright alarm clocks should be put away well before going to sleep.
KEEP AN EYE ON YOUR DIET
Avoid foods or drinks before bedtime that will induce stress hormone production or cause blood sugar imbalances during the night e.g. heavy meals, sugar, caffeine, and alcohol (except a little red wine).
LIGHT IS GOOD TOO…
Daytime light exposure will promote a regular circadian rhythm of Melatonin and help ensure higher levels at night time. Keep in mind that although Melatonin is easily accessible and natural, it is still a hormone.
Hormones are some of the most powerful regulatory chemicals functioning within the body. Melatonin supplements can also negatively interact with many different medications, so always check with your doctor before self-medicating.