The Melatonin/ Light Connection

Like most animals, our bodies are triggered to sleep via the setting of the sun, and we wake when it pops back up again the following day.

But we are far removed from our caveman days. If we need light in the evenings, we don’t scour the land for material to burn, and then furiously rub 2 sticks together. We have the amazing fortune of being able to flick a switch. Anytime of the day… and as many switches, as we like! Room lights, TV’s, lamps, ipads, laptops, fish tanks, the little light in the fridge comes on without even flicking a switch! Sorcery! 


Melatonin Caveman

So what effect does this light have on our circadian rhythm?

Light will inhibit the enzyme called “serotonin N-acetyltransferase”, which is needed to convert serotonin to melatonin. This little hormone is 100% necessary for sleep maintenance. As light goes down in the evenings, more melatonin is produced, and as the sun starts to peek through the curtains in the morning, melatonin production slows down, causing us to wake up.

We’re all well aware by now, that we need to detox from screen time before bed. Hands up who does this?

Research shows that even room light will decrease melatonin production.[1] This will increase the time it takes you to get to sleep, but also shortens the length of time melatonin is produced by 90 minutes. This makes for a very poor sleep, and a dose of the grumpy-pants in the morning.

It’s best to reduce the amount of light you’re exposed to by 2 hours….

…1 hour wont cut it! [2]

Signs of melatonin deficiency

  • Poor sleep onset, duration, and overall sleep quality
  • Cancer – Melatonin modulates estrogen recpetors, so can be useful for estrogen dominant cancers such as breast and prostate.[3][4]
  • Hypertension – Melatonin can reduce both systolic and diastolic values.[5]
  • Fibromyalgia – Higher melatonin levels are associated with less pain.[6]
  • Migraines[7]
  • Changes in mood
  • Bone loss – In an animal study, melatonin supplementation reduced bone loss.[8]
  • Hypothyroidism – Melatonin is needed to sensitise the pituitary gland to TSH.[9]
  • Poor breast milk supply –Melatonin deficiency causes lower prolactin levels.[10]
  • Fatigue/ brain fog – If you don’t sleep well, you don’t function properly. Pretty simple!

What you can do

  • Turn off your screens and talk to someone, or spend some time meditating or doing some breathing exercises.
  • Wear 2 hours before your bedtime. These glasses block 99% of light wavelengths up to 525nm, which is the range that affects sleep quality, inhibits melatonin production, and stops us from being able to properly regenerate or detoxify during sleep.
  • Change your light globes to a red color – White and blue lights inhibit melatonin production the most.
  • Install F.lux onto your PC or laptop to cut out the blue light. It will adjust your screen to an orange light so that your brain still thinks its nighttime if you using it at night. (Blue blockers are more effective than this app in my opinion).
  • Increase tryptophan containing foods in the evening – These will make serotonin, which will then covert to melatonin. Take note though, these need to be consumed in the absence of other proteins, which inhibit the absorption of tryptophan into the brain; and with carbohydrates, which increase tryptophan absorption.
  • For more strategies to help sleep maintenance click here

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