Not only is sleep important for memory and learning, but it’s a great way to support the immune system and regulate emotions. Not getting enough sleep or disruption in sleep patterns will increase your risk of heart disease, metabolic diseases like diabetes, and cognitive disease. Getting enough sleep is also the best way to increase your concentration throughout the day.
Melatonin and Cortisol
The body follows a 24-hour cycle called the circadian rhythm regulated by melatonin and cortisol. Cortisol rises in the morning to help wake us up and get ready for the day ahead while the body naturally releases melatonin at night to get us ready for sleep. Throughout the day melatonin levels will stay low while cortisol levels are elevated, until the evening when they switch. The circadian rhythm is very consistent, which is why we tend to feel tired at about the same time each night; this is why keeping a regular sleep schedule is a great way to support overall energy levels and quality of sleep.
Since we want melatonin to rise in the evenings, it makes sense that supporting its production at night is a great place to improve our sleep. Melatonin release is blocked by exposure to light—the body won’t release melatonin during the day because of this exposure. At night, the body can’t tell the difference between the type of light we’re being exposed to – the sun’s light, or synthetic LEDs. This is why limiting exposure to synthetic blue light (TV, computers, overhead light) at night will help with the natural rise of melatonin. This may mean using low-light lamps instead of bright overhead lights at night.
Certain foods contain melatonin and have been shown to improve sleep quality. Cherries, walnuts, and pistachios are some of the most common foods containing melatonin., Eating these foods before bed can be helpful due to their melatonin and high fat content to keep blood sugar stable throughout the night (another cause of poor sleep!)
Blue Light and No Light
Blue light, a certain wavelength of light, has been shown to interfere with the release of melatonin, and we are exposed to blue light in a variety of ways, but mostly through phones, tablets, computers, and televisions. Screen time at night can have a major impact on sleep by blocking the release of melatonin. Stop using technology at least one hour before bed to help support the natural rise in melatonin. If necessary, try out blue light-blocking glasses or a blue light filter on your computer or phone when on screens after dark.
Sleeping in complete darkness is best. When getting into bed, hold a hand outstretched in front; if fingers can be seen, the room is likely too light for sleep. Try out blackout curtains or covering up some of the lights in the room are ways to offset this.
If, despite these, you’re still finding trouble with sleep, consider blood sugar imbalances, stress, anxiety, nutritional deficiencies, and sleep apnea. Working with a naturopathic doctor is a great way to get a jumpstart on improved energy and prevent illness from taking hold due to poor-quality sleep.
Dr. Alyssa DeSena is a CT-licensed Naturopathic Doctor at Soleil Acupuncture + Naturopathic Wellness in Hamden, CT. Growing up, she always struggled with digestive issues and pain with her period, which gradually worsened. Naturopathic medicine allowed her to reach the root cause instead of covering up symptoms with medications or ignoring them. Her passion for hormone and digestive health came from her personal history of struggles and hearing stories of many women experiencing the same problems she encountered.
She is located at 2661 Whitney Ave., Hamden, CT. Call 203.871.3262 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org.