Can't fall or stay asleep? Put down the melatonin and no one gets hurt.. seriously.
Sleep is so important. As in we have like 10+ hormones that regenerate while we sleep, and that's at certain times of night assuming we go through different stages of sleep. Unfortunately there are a number of medications like various psych meds, cold medicines and decongestants (ironic because sleep is imperative when we're sick), statins, steroids, antihistamines, and blood pressure medications that can cause vivid dreams, and disrupt sleep at any given time. Melatonin can be ok for a short period of time, except in some people it contributes to insomnia, and overall can limit our own production as melatonin is a hormone (like how birth control, hormone replacement, and testosterone can all eventually tell our body 'you're good, you don't need to make this- I got this').
Sleep deprivation is seen as a form of torture, so makes sense that when we can't fall or stay asleep on a regular basis we risk weight gain, increased risk of heart disease and heart attack, decreased immune health, worsened memory, low sex drive (you need at least three hours of interrupted sleep to make testosterone- 'low T' though is very common and also leads to poor sleep), mood swings/increased irritability, increased sugar/carb cravings, and poor digestion, to name a few. Melatonin, our sleep hormone, varies inversely with cortisol, our stress hormone, so when we can't sleep cortisol can't decrease as much as it would like and little by little elevates over time.
Elevated cortisol further makes it harder to go to sleep, and much of where we pack on weight from cortisol (stress hormone) is our abdomen. And fat cells are their own endocrine organ that mess with our sex hormones too to contribute to weight gain (enter inflammation and additional elevated cortisol). Poor sleep also increases leptin, our hormone that signals hunger, instead of the one we probably want more of- ghrelin, the one that says 'I'm full, stop eating.' Then we're tired and cranky throughout the day, yet those energy drinks and caffeine give us an adrenaline/cortisol boost- and the whole cycle starts over.
Ok, now that we got the depressing stuff out of the way, here are some tactics you can implement right away to get better sleep, feel more well rested, and know you're doing your body good:
- Hit the sack before 11pm - Most of melatonin, our most potent self-made antioxidant, is made between 11pm-3am, and this antioxidant is great for fighting inflammation (think cortisol), detox, and truly nourishing any sort of dis-ease present in our body. If you tend to go to bed after midnight, consider lowering in increments of 15 minutes every few nights, as sometimes a drastic change can be a shock to the system.
- Take an epsom salt bath - Magnesium is nature's relaxer, involved in over 500 reactions in our body, so combine a nice warm bath with magnesium, and you'll sleep like a log. Proverbially speaking. Benefits also include detox, reduces inflammation, improves joint health, and helps reduce sugar/carb cravings. Add 1 cup to your bath water.
- Eat your veggies - Especially foods like dark leafy greens and cruciferous vegetables, like spinach, kale, cauliflower, broccoli, chard, brussels sprouts, because most of melatonin is made in our gut!! These vegetables contain a wide variety of vitamins and minerals, as well as fiber that feed our good gut bacteria. Add in foods like turkey, eggs, pineapples, salmon, nuts, seeds, poultry, and beef, which are high in L-tryptophan and serotonin, the precursors to melatonin.
And of course no electronics, screens, etc. an hour before bed. Though that could also be for our own sanity...
However, If you do find yourself waking up at certain times in the middle of the night for any reason, in Chinese medicine that could point to a certain organ dysfunction, or it may have to do with certain emotions, and even bringing in other reasons like stress, hormone imbalance, and blood sugar issues. Sometimes I'll suggest saliva tests to get a glimpse of our adrenal gland health, the two glands that sit on top of each kidney responsible for hormone health, stress response, and blood pressure. What should be high in the morning and dropping steadily throughout the day can be zig zagged, inverse, all high, all low, etc. Fortunately all can be healed, especially as we start with the strategies above, and dive in deeper as needed. If you think you may be interested in a cortisol test for sleep and/or energy issues, then we should chat about a plan to help get you sleeping through the night, and being in optimal health.