The latest research shows the main cause of poor sleep is low melatonin production. Melatonin helps get you to sleep; and melatonin helps keep you asleep. However, there are many self-help factors involved you can use.
Melatonin and sleep
Even with melatonin, there’s a surprising twist. Melatonin is produced from two sources: from your pineal gland and from your friendly gut bacteria! Melatonin from your pineal gland in part helps you get to sleep. Melatonin from your gut bacteria helps you to stay asleep past 4 am.
How much sleep is enough?
Jeff Bezos of Amazon fame admits he wants and needs 8 hours a night and a Fitbit programme will tell the wearer they should get more than 7 hours. Margaret Thatcher cat-napped, as did Winston Churchill. So there seems to be an element of different strokes for different folks. But the generally recognised level is that you should aim for seven to eight hours a night.
So why do you need sleep anyway?
A lack of sleep long-term can lead to chronic ill health. Lack of sleep is dangerous. It can lead to cardiovascular disease, strokes, dementia, diabetes, depression and more. Poor sleep can even alter your genes (1).
Even in the short-term, without sleep you dumb down, make poor decisions, have more accidents, have a much higher risk of cancer and other chronic illness and just don’t live as long as you should. Oh, and your sex life will be worse if you’re male.
Think of sleep as nourishment. If you don’t get enough nourishing sleep you weaken your whole body. However, too much nourishment can make your fat and slothful.
What causes poor sleep?
There is one underlying reason for poor sleep – Low Melatonin. But it’s not as simple as that.
Melatonin doesn’t actually put you to sleep. We have Circadian Rhythms, which are a summation of many factors operating in the body. A little melatonin starts to build up in your body for about two hours as darkness comes on, and it calms you down, ready for sleep. Darkness is the reason you go to sleep.
1. Your brain – your pineal gland – produces melatonin
Melatonin is produced by the pineal gland, just under your brain, from acetyl serotonin, which is produced by 5 HTP (2). 90 per cent of serotonin is made in the gut and this depends on how well your microbiome is, if you have enough precursor Tryptophan (turkey, dairy, eggs, chicken) and even vitamin D; its production is therefore inconsistent AND it does not seem to cross the Blood Brain Barrier into the pineal gland, but 5 HTP does. You can supplement with 5HTP, or with melatonin.
However you can reduce the level of melatonin made. Alcohol, smoking, EMFs, eating late in the evening, using a computer or a phone with blue light (rather than warm light), watching the TV from too near, or having a very bright blue light, ‘cold’ TV screen. You also might not have a totally dark bedroom, with EMF’s, a TV on standby, outside blue light and it could be too hot, or too cold.
Melatonin is produced about 40 minutes after you go to sleep – melatonin puts you into a deeper, longer sleep. It is the biggest antioxidant we animals make and it is very, very anti-inflammatory. It’s the healing hormone, and the main reason sleep is so healing.
Let’s examine the factors that affect its production:
a) Low Red light levels – light is composed of a whole spectrum of colours. At the red end you have warmth and the more hours of light you derive from the red end – think sunshine, beach, holidays – the higher will be your melatonin production at night time. Conversely, spend your whole day in doors with little natural sunlight and you will be short of melatonin.
b) High Blue light levels – Professor Russel Reiter, who is an expert on melatonin explained to us that staring at a computer screen, a phone screen or a laptop screen for just an hour during the day, could reduce melatonin production during the following night.
c) This is especially true if you do this in the two hours before bed. The problem becomes worse in the evening as blue light is stronger when the light around you is dim, and blue light is not just coming from your computer screens but the TV and the lights in your home.
d) Finally, the worst thing for disrupting melatonin production is having blue light interfere with your body while you sleep. You must be in a completely darkened room with no chance of street lights or other blue light falling on your skin. Try wearing shades if there is even a hint of outside light in your bedroom.
2. Gut Bacteria – big producers of melatonin
Believe it or not but your gut bacteria have circadian rhythms – they go to sleep too. How do they know it’s night time? You send them a shot of melatonin. Then they go to sleep and make 400 times the melatonin you make, almost certainly via increased serotonin production. This keeps you asleep longer.
What stops them producing a full dose of melatonin?
a) You don’t have a full set of gut bacteria! Either temporarily or permanently – due to drugs like antibiotics, proton pump inhibitors, and chemotherapy that destroy their numbers.
b) You ate too late – so they are gobbling up your food when you’d rather they went to sleep and made you some melatonin.
Late meals = poor sleep.
c) You’ve not looked after them properly, so their numbers and types decline – they like soluble fibre (oats, pulses/legumes, nuts and seeds, vegetables); their enemies like sugar, high fructose corn syrup, lactose, alcohol.
d) You have damaged their environment and changed the acidity of the gut – binge drinking, smoking, stress, depression all change their surrounds and their population growth. You can cut the smoking and drinking. Stress and depression are cyclical with poor sleep. More stress – less sleep – more stress – less sleep – more stress. It’s the same for depression. Stress hormone levels can be reduced by fish oils, the Ayurvedic herb Ashwagandha, a warm bath. Depression is often linked to a poor microbiome and lowered serotonin levels. Take a probiotic, consume Apple Cider Vinegar and probiotic foods.
e) You haven’t slept well since your holiday – did you have food poisoning and/or pick up a parasite that is attacking them?
f) You haven’t slept well since you moved home – EMFs will affect your brain’s ability to produce melatonin, and also upset your gut bacteria. Do you now live near radio masts, electricity pylons? Do you have electric points either side of your bed, do you live on an EMF fault line? You can have all this checked.
g) Is your bed round the wrong way? In both Feng Shui and Ayurvedic medicine your sleep direction and position determines what energy comes into your life. Scientists have research showing REM sleep is affected by how you sleep – they believe the direction of your bed needs to be linked directionally to the magnetic poles. Studies show that you have shorter REM sleep sleeping with your head in the South or the East (3). And Ayurvedic medicine and Feng Shui also say that you shouldn’t have your head to the East or South.
h) Take exercise, but have time to wind down. Exercise will make you more tired and does increase sleep time (4). But not if you try to go to bed soon afterwards. Exercise increases cortisol levels temporarily. Not good for sleep!
i) Little things help – pillows, your bed, deep breathing exercises, spending time outdoors during the day, two squares of 85%+ dark chocolate, Reiki (one hand on your heart, the other on your abdomen), not drinking caffeine in the 3 hours before bed, the correct room temperature for you.
j) Even sunlight (and vitamin D) helps. Vitamin D plays a role in serotonin production. And also Near Infra Red light (it penetrates through clouds even on the darkest days), it penetrates through clouds and causes the 1000 or soPower Stations (mitochondria) in each of your cells to produce melatonin, the number one antioxidant we make, to clean up the microenvironmement of your cells.
k) Consider taking melatonin – 5 mg for the over-60s, as we make less as we age. 5-HTP is also gaining fans; as I said above – it is the direct pre-cursor of melatonin.
Hopefully, this little review of what is going on in and what you might do about it, will help you get a good night’s sleep.
Oddly, I found a FitBit helped. I had not realized my sleep in terms of quantity and quality, was so poor. Now I’ve changed a number of factors and my sleep is so much better.
- Lack of sleep damages genes
- 5HTP, precursor to melatonin
- Bedroom design orientation and sleep electroencephalography signals – https://www.actamedicainternational.com/article.asp?aulast=Hekmatmanesh;epage=37;issn=2349-0578;issue=1;spage=33;volume=6;year=2019
- Exercise and sleep – https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/1253117