Melatonin is the hormone that makes us ready for sleep and it is secreted when it is DARK. Melatonin is unusual in as much it’s both a hormone as well as an antioxidant, meaning THAT IT REPAIRS YOUR BRAIN. Ergo: IT’S HUGELY IMPORTANT!!!
If you have good melatonin, you are highly likely to wake up refreshed (provided you don’t have an underactive thyroid or similar issues). If you don’t you may well wake up feeling groggy.
And here’s the rub: Rest is the antidote to stress, and the stress hormones are antagonistic to melatonin, which is why in times of big stress, the one thing we crave – a good night’s sleep – often seems totally out of reach. This is also why long-term stress has a detrimental effect on the brain (eg. memory etc)
And most people need about 8 – 9 hours a sleep a night. That’s EVERY night. Extra sleep on weekends does not make up for deficiency every week night. Melatonin peaks at about 2 am, so make sure you go to bed by 10pm so you can have 4 hours sleep either side of that peak.
So here are the tips on how to get a good night’s sleep:
Avoid watching TV or using your computer at night—or at least about an hour or so before going to bed. TV and computer screens emit blue light, similar to daylight. This tricks your brain into thinking it’s still daytime, thereby shutting down melatonin secretion. I am told that a lot of teenagers sleep with their mobile phones, which is horrifying as it not only stops them from sleeping (and so regenerating their brains and integrating what they have learnt during the day) by being woken up by texts during the night (what???!!!) and by looking at blue light, but it also exposes their brains to damage from the radiation (especially if the phone is under their pillow). PLEASE confiscate your children’s phones before bedtime.
Sleep in darkness. As mentioned, melatonin is secreted when it gets dark. If you can make out features like light fittings in the room you sleep in, it’s probably too light. Use blackout curtains if necessary. And don’t have a clock with lit up display facing you, but about a metre away and facing away from you. If you use your mobile as an alarm clock, put it in flight mode to avoid radiation – and also random texts waking you up at ungodly hours.
Keep the temperature in your bedroom below 20 degrees. A reduction in core body temperature is a part of the sleep-initiation and sleep maintenance process. A room temperature that is too warm or too cool can prevent your core temperature from lowering to its ideal place for good sleep. Aim to keep your bedroom temperature between 16 – 19 degrees, and identify the best room temperature for you through trial and error. Incidentally if you sleep in a room at 19 degrees, it stimulates your brown adipose tissue, which raises your metabolism.
Take a hot bath or shower 30 minutes before bedtime. The hot bath increases your core body temperature, opening up the blood vessels in your limbs. When you get out of the bath, heat can leave your body easily (if the room temperature is cool), abruptly dropping your core body temperature, making you drowsy and ready for great sleep.
Check your bedroom for electro-magnetic fields (EMFs). These can disrupt your pineal gland and the production of melatonin and serotonin, and may have other negative effects as well. Some experts even recommend pulling your circuit breaker before bed to shut down all power in your house. Definitely pull the plug on an electric blanket if you use one.
No caffeine after 4 pm. Caffeine stimulates the adrenal glands to pour out stress hormones, and as already discussed, the more stress hormone, the less melatonin and hence quality sleep.
No anaerobic exercise after 4 pm. Anaerobic exercise being defined as exercise where your heart rate is above 180 – your age. A gentle walk is generally ok.
TV (again) – personal view. Don’t watch violent or upsetting things before you try to go to sleep. TV and other entertainment devices create “spikes” in your brain activity once every 6 seconds or so, whereas reality does about once every 30 seconds (it’s not surprising people get addicted). You’re trying to relax prior to going to sleep, not being all wound up!
Have a sleep routine: the body loves rhythms! So get up and go to sleep at the same time every night! Even on weekends, and make sure that you get up and go to bed at the same time as always. Nerves that wire together, fire together, that’s how habits are formed, so do the same routine every night so your brain knows that when these things take place, it’s leading up to sleeping time. Personally, I read a bit, and I tend to always fall asleep in the same position, too.
And again, take change in small chunks: take the easiest change above and implement it. Then tackle the next one after you have acquired the first one.
Remember that sleep is essential for having a great brain in older age, and it’s also crucial for weight loss.
Sleep well, warm regards, Annika