Last week I wrote about the importance of hydration for getting a good night’s sleep. Since sleep is so crucial for proper brain function and Alzheimer’s prevention, I wanted to expand on the topic and provide another tip you may not have heard before.
First, a quick review: One of the main reasons getting 7-8 hours of restful (drugless) sleep each night is so important is because of the cleansing process that happens in the brain during the REM phase of sleep – the deep sleep phase. Sleeping pills don’t get you there, and they all have side effects so we have to detach from that quick fix and figure out “the why”. Why can’t I sleep? You know from previous emails that stress is a common culprit. Last week you learned that hydration is important for a good night’s sleep and I encouraged you to drink more water. Today I want to talk about melatonin.
Melatonin is called the sleep hormone because it naturally rises in the evening, significantly so around 9pm, and is highest between 2-4 am. It helps you go to sleep and stay asleep. Taking a melatonin supplement can help you get to sleep, but you may still find yourself waking up around 2 or 3am. This may be because the artificial melatonin has run its course. Taking more isn’t necessarily the right action. Gut dysfunction is another reason for waking up at that time and we’ll soon get to that topic.
Here’s a tip for naturally increasing your melatonin level: Morning sunlight. That’s right – it could be that easy (and free). Get yourself outside early in the morning for 15-30 minutes without glasses, contacts, or sunglasses. You don’t have to look directly into the sun – just open your eyes and take a walk. The sunlight coming into your eyes is important.
When you’re exposed to sunlight in the morning, your nocturnal melatonin production occurs sooner, which helps you enter into sleep more easily at night.
Here’s how it works: Photosensitive cells in the eye directly affect the brain’s hypothalamus which controls our biological clock. Those light-sensitive cells also affect the pineal gland which is where most of your melatonin is made in the brain. Melatonin is not only important for proper sleep, but also for intestinal function and can help prevent depression. In fact, some of our melatonin is made in the gut. And sometimes an issue with low melatonin that impacts sleep is related to….. gut health. All the melatonin in the world won’t fix that, and next week I’m going to take you deep inside your gut to discover the connection to your brain : ). Remember, everything is connected and the more you’re able to understand these connections, the more sense this anti-Alzheimer’s lifestyle I keep talking about will make.
For now, just know that morning sunlight increases nocturnal melatonin production which is what you’re trying to do when you take a melatonin supplement – except it doesn’t work as well as your own natural melatonin throughout the night. So get up early, grab a bottle of water, watch the sunrise or take a walk – and take your dog or your spouse or your kids. It’s good for everyone.
By the way — the tech light from your computer, phone, and tv interferes with the ability to sleep. So turn those things off as much as possible – and get some blue blocker glasses if you spend a lot of time in front of the screens.