Quality sleep is one of the most fundamental acts of self-care there is—a foundational layer to your well-being like healthy eating and daily exercise. Nonetheless, it’s something many people struggle with: putting your eyes to rest, enhancing sleep quality, and waking feeling fully rested.
So how do you encourage restful sleep in a non-toxic way, and without feeling sluggish or experiencing other adverse side-effects the next day? Melatonin, a hormone produced naturally by the body in response to darkness, is a key player, here’s what you should know:
Your body has an internal “clock”—known as your circadian rhythm—and this clock uses cues (like how light or dark it is) to let your body know when it’s time to sleep, wake, and eat. Melatonin is a hormone that's released by a gland in the brain and it’s responsible for maintaining this internal rhythm: when it’s dark, your body produces more melatonin, but when it’s light, the production of melatonin goes down.
Although melatonin levels plummet during daylight (to an almost non-existent level) and come out strong at night, light exposure during the day matters. Stepping outside into natural light soon after waking sends a signal to your brain that this is the start of your awake cycle, which begins the countdown to the start of your sleep cycle. Light exposure at the right time will also signal other hormones to rise that help you maintain focus, energy, and alertness throughout the day.
Although you might not be in bed ready to fall asleep by 9 pm (if only!), usually melatonin levels begin to rise significantly around this time, preparing your body for sleep. This is why even minor disruptions to the light/dark rhythm can impact how much melatonin your body produces. Working late nights in a brightly lit environment, blue light exposure, and even drawing your curtains when it’s daytime can disrupt normal melatonin production.
Melatonin levels generally stay high for about 12 hours overnight until dawn. Which is why if you wake during the night or need a bathroom break, trying to keep light levels low to non-existent is crucial. A bright light (like the light emitted from your phone) will halt melatonin production and it can take time to increase again. Ideally, try to navigate to the bathroom without any lighting, but if this isn’t possible or safe, try using a very low-light flashlight pointed at the floor or open the curtains very slightly to let in enough light to guide the way.
As melatonin helps your body prepare for sleep, people who don’t make enough of it at night, or who have a lifestyle or environmental challenge (like shift workers, for example) can struggle to experience peaceful sleep. Melatonin supplementation is the perfect addition to your nighttime ritual, helping you to relax and wind down before bed and promoting the onset of sleep.As with achieving any kind of optimal state of wellbeing, maintaining the delicate balance of your body’s not-so-little army of chemical messengers is crucial if you want to feel your best. So, don’t wait until you’re lying awake a night, or feeling groggy in the morning to tackle the challenge of sleeping soundly. Learn how to harness the power of melatonin if you finally want to clock in those eight hours of quality shut-eye, feel less sluggish, and truly refresh your mind and body overnight.