WRITTEN BY Dr. Stephanie Rubino, BSc. ND- 10 September 2012
From one of our most popular blog posts, Getting to Sleep: Tips from Dr. Stephanie Rubino, comes a follow up post to ensure you get the restful night's sleep you deserve.
If you have ever suffered from insomnia, then you know first-hand about the frustration that comes with bedtime. Deep breathing, warm milk, counting sheep, visualization…you name it, you've tried it in hopes that it will help you fall asleep faster. Many natural health products are known for their role in helping those with sleep difficulties such as valerian, magnesium, and chamomile. However, one of the most popular products for sleep disorders that I speak with people about is melatonin.
Melatonin is a neurohormone produced in the pineal gland, located in the center of the brain. It helps regulate your body's internal clock. When it is dark, your body produces more melatonin, indicating it is time to go to sleep. Melatonin levels rise throughout the evening hours and peak in the middle of the night. However when light appears, your body’s production of melatonin decreases signaling it is time to wake up.
Several studies have found that melatonin supplementation is able to improve sleep. Melatonin is generally used to help people fall asleep when the sleep/wake cycle has been disturbed, such as in shift workers or those suffering from jet lag. Low melatonin levels have been linked to insomnia, particularly in the elderly. Melatonin may help reduce the amount of time needed to fall asleep and the number of wakings during the night, as well as improve sleep quality and alertness after sleep.
In a recent double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial, participants from a long-term care facility took a food supplement containing 5 mg melatonin, 225 mg magnesium, and 11.25 mg zinc, or placebo, every day for 8 weeks, 1 hour before bedtime (Rondanelli et al, 2011). By the end of the study, those that took the food supplement had improvements in ease of getting to sleep, quality of sleep, alertness and behavioral integrity the following morning, and total sleep time. The researchers concluded that the administration of nightly melatonin, magnesium, and zinc appeared to improve the quality of sleep and the quality of life in those with primary insomnia.
Melatonin has been shown to be beneficial in sleep disorders in children with attention-deficit hyperactivity and autism spectrum disorders. However, the uses of melatonin go beyond sleep disorders. Melatonin is among the most potent antioxidants our bodies manufacture, and studies have linked low levels of melatonin to breast, prostate, liver, and other cancers. It can also provide protection against diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and stroke.
You can increase your levels of melatonin naturally by going to sleep early and meditating for 15 minutes or longer before bed. Eating certain foods such as raspberries, almonds, tart cherries, flaxseeds and strawberries can increase melatonin production. It is also important to reduce your consumption of artificial flavorings, processed foods, caffeine and other stimulants which can decrease levels of melatonin. Being exposed to bright lights in the evening can also disrupt the body's normal melatonin cycles. Recently, researchers have found that a two-hour exposure to light from self-luminous electronic displays can suppress melatonin by about 22 percent. Therefore, it is important to keep your room dark and avoid light stimulation from alarm clocks and mobile devices.
Taking melatonin in a supplemental form is a preferred option for many people. Dosages from 1 mg to 10 mg have been shown to improve sleep quality, when taken 30-60 minutes before sleep time. Melatonin by Webber Naturals is available in 3mg, 5mg (Extra Strength) and 10mg (Maximum Strength), in a yummy peppermint flavour! Everyone responds differently to melatonin; it cannot be taken by everyone and may not be an effective answer for all cases of insomnia. Consult your health care provider if you are pregnant or breastfeeding, use sedative medications, suffer from seizures, depression, hypertension, have a hormonal disorder, diabetes, liver or kidney disease, or cerebral palsy.
Interested in other ways to gets some zzz’s quickly? Here are some suggestions to follow:
- Exercise regularly during the day.
- Drink teas that calm the nervous system such as chamomile, hops, and passion flower.
- Keep regular bedtime hours and establish a bedtime routine.
- Reduce fluid intake 2 hours before bed.
- Avoid a heavy meal close to bedtime. If you're hungry, eat a high-protein snack.
- Write in a journal before bed to help release your thoughts from the day.
- Look at potentially using natural health products such as L-theanine, 5-HTP, magnesium or valerian.
It is always important to determine the cause of your sleep difficulties. Take the time to figure out what may be keeping you awake at night, and if you are unsure always speak to your health care provider.
Rondanelli M, Opizzi A, Monteferrario F, Antoniello N, Manni R, Klersy C. The effect of melatonin, magnesium, and zinc on primary insomnia in long-term care facility residents in Italy: a double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial. J Am Geriatr Soc. 2011 Jan;59(1):82-90.
Image sources: http://doctormurray.com/health-conditions/insomnia-sleep-wake-cycle-disorder/