Like a parent gently eases their child into their night-time routine before tucking them into bed, the hormone melatonin signals to the body that it’s time to go to sleep. Responsible for reducing levels of alertness and helping individuals fall asleep, melatonin is often referred to as the “sleep hormone,” or the “Dracula of hormones,” because it only comes out in the dark.
What Is Melatonin?
Melatonin is a naturally occurring hormone produced by the pineal gland in the brain. This pea-sized gland is located just above the middle of the brain and is inactive during the day. However, when the sun goes down and darkness begins to spread, the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) initiates signals to ignite the pineal gland so it can begin to actively produce melatonin and release it into the blood, according to the National Sleep Foundation. While it may seem unrealistic to night owls and nearly perfect to early birds, this process usually occurs around 9 pm.
How Does Melatonin Affect Sleep?
Working with the body’s circadian rhythm, or natural internal clock, melatonin binds to receptors in the body that can help individuals relax. This includes receptors in the brain to help reduce nerve activity and in the eyes to reduce levels of dopamine, the “happy” hormone that helps people stay awake, Healthline says.
Both a part of the sleep-wake cycle, melatonin and body temperature work together to help people maintain quality rest, though their cycles operate on roughly opposite spectrums. While body temperature tends to be at its lowest point until about 3 or 4 am, melatonin levels are at the highest point. As we discussed in a previous blog on body temperature and sleep, core body temperatures are high during the daytime for optimal alertness, while melatonin levels are low.
Although melatonin in the sleep cycle may date back more than 700 million years, we continue to interrupt sleep cycles and melatonin production by staying up late reading on smartphones and tablets, watching TV or working under bright lights late into the night. In addition to avoiding these habits, when possible, in favor of a healthy bedtime routine, there are ways to naturally boost melatonin production for better sleep.
How to Naturally Produce Melatonin
Why not just take a melatonin supplement? While this is an option, as melatonin is available throughout the United States as a dietary supplement and needs no prescription, it is certainly beneficial and recommended to speak with a healthcare professional in advance to deduce the right dosage and a suggested brand. As the National Sleep Foundation warns, it does not need to be approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) or controlled in the same way as drugs, so listed doses of synthetic melatonin may not be controlled or accurate.
Natural ways one can produce melatonin, however, include:
- Eat melatonin-rich food several hours before bed to boost its release throughout the night. This can include almonds and walnuts, cherries, bananas and grains, such as oatmeal or whole-wheat crackers.
- Avoid blue light from devices such as laptops, smartphones, etc. which possess a similar effect on the body as sunlight and can hinder melatonin production levels. If this cannot be avoided, try wearing amber-tinted glasses to help protect against blue light.
- Create an ideal sleep environment with a dimly lit bedroom. The formula for a more restful sleep can be easy: a dark and temperature-neutral room and a comfortable bed, such as the Ananda Sleep System, which consists of a cool gel memory foam mattress and adjustable base.
- Start your morning off with some sun. Not only with this help ward off any lingering drowsiness and boost morning energy levels, it can help nocturnal melatonin production occur earlier in the evening. This is because sunlight aids in the production of serotonin, the precursor to melatonin.
Through childhood and adulthood, it’s common for humans to fight against the natural instinct to go to sleep when it’s dark and wake up when it’s sunny, but our bodies are wired to follow cues. Although there will nearly always be something exciting or stressful that may necessitate our attention, taking special care to acknowledge the signals our bodies give us will only help us in the long run.
From our one-of-a-kind memory foam pillow to our memory foam mattress, learn more about how you can treat yourself to a more restful and rejuvenating night’s sleep with Ananda.
Disclaimer: This blog is for educational purposes only. Ananda does not promote, recommend or undermine the consumption of melatonin. If you are considering incorporating melatonin supplements or melatonin-rich foods into your diet, please consult with your physician first.