This week, as I’ve listened to newscasters talk about how the flu epidemic is taking over America, it struck me that people are likely ill, in part, because they are experiencing a melatonin deficiency.
Vitamin D and melatonin have something in common. They both strengthen the body’s immune system. Their relative production should complement each other perfectly. But, in our world of technology, they have become out of sync. Cancer and other diseases can develop if an immune system doesn’t function properly. In this post, you are going to gain an appreciation for melatonin and learn what you can do to normalize your brain’s production of this important hormone.
Winter and melatonin deficiency
It is wintertime in the northern hemisphere and people all over are getting sick. The news is filled with reports of how bad the flu is this year. Unless you are supplementing yourself with Vitamin D, your Vitamin D levels have likely dropped because the sun is low in the sky and days are short. We know that low Vitamin D levels are associated with decreased immune function. But why would mother nature do this to us? Does it make sense that we should all be put at greater risk for illness during the winter?
Although days are short, nights are long and your body’s natural response during periods of prolonged darkness is to produce more melatonin. This hormone is produced by the brain’s pineal gland, often referred to as the third eye. This gland receives information directly from the eyes and can therefore in a way, sense whether or not it is dark or light out. In the absence of light, the pineal gland secretes melatonin which has crucial beneficial health effects on your body, one of which is to strengthen the immune system.
So in the summertime, your immune system is fortified by sunlight and Vitamin D, while in the wintertime, your immune system should be enhanced by darkness and melatonin.
If this is true, why are so many people getting sick in the darkness of winter?!
Maybe one reason has to do with a mass deficiency in production. There are several common habits we share which could explain why so many of us experience melatonin deficiency.
6 simple tips to avoid melatonin deficiency:
- Melatonin production should be cyclical, off during the day and on at night. expose yourself to sunlight or at least full spectrum light during the day so your brain knows when it is daytime.
- Pick a bedtime and stick with it. When the body gets into the habit of going to sleep at a certain time, it will naturally want to fall asleep when that time arrives each day or night. Let yourself drift off when that time comes.
- Before going to bed, refrain from looking at all LED screens, including cell phones, laptops, tablets and TVs. Looking at an LED screen before going to sleep significantly reduces the amount of melatonin your brain produces at night. This light effect is even more potent for children than adults, so make sure your kids turn off their devices at least a half hour before bedtime.
- Feng shui masters consider having electronics in the bedroom to be inauspicious. They are wise. When you turn out the lights to sleep, there should be NO ambient light. If you have electronics in your bedroom, unplug each device that has an indicator light. Alternatively, you can shield each light source with a piece of countertop decor. Understand that if you can see any light with your eyes open, your pineal gland will more than likely see the light even when your eyes are closed.
- If you are used to falling asleep in front of the TV, try to change your habit. It is best to read before bed (not from a tablet). If you need some ambient sound to relax, play music or listen to something previously downloaded to your device. If you feel you absolutely must have the TV on to fall asleep, put the TV on a timer so it will shut off after you typically fall asleep.
- Electromagnetic frequencies (EMF) trick the pineal gland into thinking that there is ambient light. EMF exposure during sleep will therefore cause your brain to produce less melatonin. If you use your cell phone as an alarm, put it in airplane mode to ensure it doesn’t ping you with EMF periodically while you are sleeping. And importantly, please don’t place a cordless phone or a wifi router anywhere near your bedroom. If you must, because of the design of your living space, either unplug the units or place them on a timer so that they turn off when you go to sleep and click back on when you are scheduled to wake up.
Ideally, we would be able to wait for the sunrise to wake up. But, since many of us have to work in the early morning, some methods of waking up are less stressful than others — and can offer a subtle, enjoyable way to address a melatonin deficiency.
Like many people, I’ve gone through an evolution of alarm clocks starting with a freestanding windup clock with bells on top. From there, I moved to a plug-in variety with hands and a buzzer and then, a digital clock radio, which had been my preferred method for awakening until recently. A few months ago, I purchased a daylighting alarm clock. I am in awe over this technology. 30 minutes prior to my scheduled wake up time, the clock begins to glow a reddish hue, which slowly brightens to a white light. It is relaxing, pleasing and so completely natural. At the designated wake up time, the clock will produce some type of sound, either an ambient noise such as crashing waves, or it will play radio.
The way this light works is very clever. Even though I sleep with my eyes close, light from the clock hits my eye lids and causes a faint illumination, telling my pineal gland that there is light in the room. In response, the pineal gland stops producing melatonin. Different wavelengths of light will have a stronger suppression on melatonin secretion than others. Interestingly, redder hues have less of an effect on melatonin suppression than blue frequencies. So, by simulating a sunrise, the clock is telling the pineal gland to SLOWLY stop producing melatonin. This gradual awakening feels so natural and is completely stress free! I highly recommend trying one.
Take care of yourself this winter and always!
Give some consideration to your sleep habits. Maybe you can do a little reorganization in the bedroom to enhance your melatonin production. Now, in the midst of winter, is a perfect time to start.