We’re hearing more and more about the importance of good sleep for countless areas of health including cellular and metabolic function, cardiovascular health, immunity and more.
But we’re also learning what quality sleep really means. Essentially, sleep by itself is not enough. We need to sleep in total darkness.
Why? The reason is melatonin. Produced mainly by the pineal gland in the brain, this hormone helps regulate the body’s relationship with light and darkness, day and night. When it gets dark, our bodies begin producing melatonin as a precursor to sleep.
In essence, melatonin is the reset button for our circadian rhythms, the body’s internal clock system that influences everything from cellular health to hormone signaling to mental acuity and more. But again, that’s only part of the story. Melatonin is also a potent antioxidant, immune modulator and master rejuvenation hormone, and has been proven to actively promote cellular health.
Though researchers haven’t quite worked out how all these pieces fit together, it’s become increasingly apparent that melatonin controls a number of critical mechanisms that help the body run smoothly.
To some degree, melatonin is the winding mechanism for our biological clocks. As darkness falls, and levels of this neuro-hormone go up, we feel an increasing drowsiness come on. People have found lots of ways to fight that instinct – caffeinated beverages, social engagements, illicit drugs – but they’re playing a dangerous game with their health.
Some people think they don’t need much sleep. Others figure that when they sleep doesn’t matter: Sleeping in the daytime should be every bit as valuable as sleeping at night, right? And if we miss sleep during the week, we can always catch up on the weekends. Unfortunately, none of these beliefs are true. We are built to sleep. Even more importantly, we are built to sleep at night, around the same time every night.
Not getting a good night’s sleep interferes with our circadian rhythms, which can impact numerous areas of health. Even sleeping during the day doesn’t counteract this effect, as light inhibits melatonin production. For example, numerous studies have shown that night shift work can dramatically affect health.
Melatonin is well regarded for its ability to scavenge free radicals. These aberrant molecules are dangerous because they wreak havoc by causing oxidative stress through the body. Since melatonin is both water and fat soluble, it moves easily through cell membranes, allowing it to clean up free radicals in areas where they can have the biggest impact. Melatonin has been shown to promote healthy cellular mitochondria, the energy producing factories within the cell. It can even help support the health of our precious DNA.
There are many melatonin supplements on the market, but they should be approached with caution. Again, melatonin is a powerful neuro-hormone. Pregnant women should be especially careful, as it regulates female reproductive hormones.
There are a number of foods, particularly tropical fruits, which naturally provide extra melatonin as well as providing precursors that improve the body’s own melatonin production. These include pineapples, bananas and oranges. Cherries are also a good source, as are oats, corn, barley and tomatoes.
Adding a small amount of melatonin to your health program can be beneficial in a number of ways. First, it’s an excellent and gentle way to encourage sleep. It can also help people who travel and must contend with jet lag, supporting their efforts to adjust to distant time zones. And of course it can also benefit people who work the late shift and have no choice but to grab their sleep in the daytime.
For more rejuvenating sleep, ecoNugenics recommends the formula, ecoSleep™, which contains a very small amount of melatonin, combined with pure honokiol and other relaxation-promoting herbal extracts such as lemon balm and passionflower. But what makes this formula truly unique are the blends of traditional Chinese herbs that work together to support vital organs and promote optimal repair and rejuvenation during sleep, particularly in areas of liver health, circulation, cognitive health and vital energy. The result is a feeling of freshness and renewal upon waking, without the morning grogginess that is so common with other herbal and OTC sleep aids.*
Additionally, to support optimal melatonin production, maintain a regular in-the-dark sleeping schedule, and avoid bright light before bed, which can reduce melatonin production. Add some melatonin rich foods to your evening meal. If you live near outdoor all-night lights, invest in blackout curtains. Cover up those blue lights, ever present on rechargeable toothbrushes, phones, and computer screens, as it is especially suppressive of melatonin production.
By taking these measures, we can help the body manage circadian rhythms and our regulate biological clocks, ensuring “dedicated time” for optimizing long term health.