You've heard it time and time again: Sleep is key to good health. Since you were a kid you've been told, "Get at least eight hours," and "Sleep in a cold, dark room," and, of course, "Never watch TV before bed!"
So, what's the deal with all these bedtime rules? Don't you just shut your eyes and drift off? The science of sleep is actually more complex than many of us realize; getting to sleep and staying asleep require our bodies to do some pretty incredible things, many of which have to do with melatonin, a hormone that helps regulate our biological clock.
Read on for the full intel on how melatonin affects our sleep and overall health.
Meet melatonin: The hormone in charge of your zzz's.
In case this is the first time you're hearing about it, our biological clock is what directs our physiological processes at certain times of the day. It goes by many names, including the circadian rhythm, sleep-wake cycle, and biorhythm (to name just a few). Melatonin, which is derived from serotonin and is produced in the pineal gland in the brain, helps regulate this daily rhythm by hiding out during the day when you're working, spending time with friends, and participating in activities that require you to be awake and alert.
Later in the evening—around 9 p.m. according to the National Sleep Foundation—your melatonin levels rise, making you feel sleepy, groggy, and prepared to do nothing but lay your head down on that pillow.
How to support your melatonin levels naturally.
For most people, the quality of their sleep isn't the same every night. And often times, improper melatonin production is to blame for less-than-stellar sleep. So how do you support healthy melatonin production?
One great option is to establish a nighttime ritual that creates optimal conditions for melatonin. Try this: After dinner, turn off the TV, put your phone on silent, and turn the lights in your home down nice and low. After you brush your teeth, spend some time winding down either with a good book, some relaxing music, or a mindfulness exercise like drawing, meditating, or journaling.
The lack of bright lights, technology, beeps, rings, and general stimulation will help signal to your body that it's about time for bed. As a result, your melatonin levels will soar and you'll have a better chance of getting the deep, restorative sleep you deserve.
How melatonin affects our overall health.
Supporting melatonin production isn't just about sleep, either. According to the research team at Nature Made, the No. 1 pharmacist-recommended vitamin and supplement brand, sleep plays an important role in your physical, mental, and emotional health. According to Nature Made, not only does sleep give your body time to recover, but sleep also plays a key role in learning and memory, attention, and mood: Insufficient sleep is also associated with the development of several prevalent chronic diseases and conditions, including type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, obesity, and depression.
Having proper melatonin production—and thus, better sleep—can also be good for your waistline. Research has shown that inadequate sleep can affect certain hormones involved in hunger and satiety that could lead to overeating and weight gain.
How melatonin supplements can supercharge your sleep.
Now that you know melatonin supports not just your sleep but your overall health, you might wonder whether your p.m. melatonin production is up to par. If this sounds like you, know that one of the biggest factors driving melatonin production and release is actually sunlight, or lack thereof. In other words: Melatonin production halts when the sun comes out and then surges in the evening, earning it the nickname "the hormone of darkness."
Unfortunately, this means that the blue light emitted from electronic devices signals to our brains that it's still daytime, hindering melatonin production and, according to the Harvard Health Letter, knocking our circadian rhythm out of whack. The consequence of this often comes in the form of us lying in bed, wide awake, long after our bedtime.
How to take melatonin for better sleep.
Artificial light isn't the only thing messing with our circadian rhythms. Melatonin production naturally declines with age, which could explain why older people are more likely to have sleep problems, and is also disrupted when you change time zones, pull an all-nighter, or work the night shift. The good news is if you're struggling with occasional sleeplessness or jet lag, supplementing with a little extra melatonin may help.
So how much should you take? According to a large review of current research on melatonin, daily doses of melatonin between 0.5 and 5 mg are similarly effective, though people fall asleep faster and sleep better after a 5 mg dose. Nature Made melatonin tablets provide 5 mg of melatonin and are designed for for occasional sleeplessness and short-term use, to help you fall asleep—STAT.
So, there you have it! Ready to try out these tips tonight?
Consult your physician if you are experiencing persistent sleep difficulties or for use.