Everything in life has a cycle. Our moods cycle. Our Seasons cycle. We have a day and night cycle. Our food and vegetable crops cycle. Everything in life has it’s own innate rhythm. To achieve optimal health requires living in complete accordance with the body’s rhythm. Any slight disruption of this rhythm and there are effects and symptoms. One of the most sensitive rhythms of our body in this modern world is the sleep wake cycle.
This cycle impacts every moment of our lives. If it is balanced, a person with peak energy can achieve a great many things in life. When this rhythm is disrupted even the slightest, it can have major ramifications for quality of life and overall states of wellness and gratitude.
Melatonin is a newer supplement on the market and well known for sleep. Melatonin is released naturally via the Pineal Gland with a balanced circadian rhythm of the body. While it is true melatonin is necessary for sleep, is it true that we should be able to just supplement it when sleep quality is poor?
Lets take a walk through the cycle of melatonin. As you know, at Brio we have a philosophy of treating at the root level. Melatonin is enhanced by lifestyle factors, and when patients ask for a supplement, without being open to change lifestyle. It really is the ultimate form of suppression of symptoms. There is nothing natural about it. It is a Band-Aid solution at best, and may provide temporary relief but we are still at risk for long-term health challenges as a result of our lifestyle.
Research and studies show that steps taken upon waking in the early morning is what sets up proper sleep cycles in the late evening. The stage set for good or bad sleep starts as soon as you wake up.
What is the biggest culprit for our disrupted sleep-wake cycle epidemic? Artificial light. Spending the majority of our day indoors, engulfed in artificial lights, TV’s, cell phones and computers etc. Often our cell phone is the first thing we see in the morning and the last thing we see at night. This wreaks havoc on our melatonin balance. What we are using often is a tool to “wind down” at night, actually is doing the opposite, completely disrupting our hormone balance, tricking our body into thinking it is day time.
How do we balance sleep-wake cycles? It will take a life style overhaul. It will take dedication. It will take going against the grain of modern day society. And every little bit of intention and improvement helps, it is in no way an all or nothing action.
- Sun gazing:
First thing in the morning, before looking at or through your cellphone, get up, get outside and spend several minutes look up at the sun. Allow the sunlight to hit your eyes and skin (no sunglasses). This dose of bright sunlight in the morning sets the stage at 6am, for a boost of melatonin release at night. So your sleep routine starts as soon as you wake up. If unable to start the day as this, make it a point to get outside at some point in the day, even during the winter months.
- Blue light:
Blue light is any light bulb, LED, fluorescent, computer screens, cell phone screens, TV’s. All are considered blue light. Blue light should be limited to the hours of waking (post sun gazing) ideally at 6am to 6-7pm. Exposure to blue light halts melatonin release, however, this isn’t a problem in the daytime, as melatonin isn’t released during the day. The problem arises when we are exposed to light in the evening. Ideally there should be no blue light after 6pm. Traditional cultures do not have artificial light. There is a waking routine with the sunrise. And the evening activity is limited to sunset.
-Ideal scenario: start to turn down lights during the evening; turn off the TV; avoid use of computers and cellphones.
-Purchase blue blocker glasses; put them on in the evening when there are lights on in the home
-Change settings of cellphones display and brightness to warm tones from 6pm-6am
-Download a blue blocking software, which will turn your computer screen to warmer colors, set it for 6pm-6am. One such program is “Iris”
When we think we are winding down at night by watching TV or surfing through your phone. It actually depletes our cellular energy currency and tricks our body into thinking its daytime, hinders melatonin release and disrupts deep restorative sleep.
- Red Light:
Red light does not disrupt the release of sleep hormone. In fact it helps enhance the effect of melatonin and you will start to feel sleepy in the evening. As we should! We are programmed to feeling sleepy in the evening, but can very easily override this natural rhythm with unnatural light. We miss sleep cues due to technology. Our melatonin levels are significantly reduced in the evening due to technology. Supporting and enhancing melatonin at night via red light not only enhances sleep, it sets us up for boundless energy, and I haven’t even mentioned the cancer protective effect, autoimmune regulation etc.
-Traditional cultures often sit around a campfire in the evening. The warm red light of the fire, hitting the retina at the back of the eyes, enhances melatonin levels
-Turn off lights and safely use non-toxic candles in the evening. The red light from the candle also is a friend to melatonin, not foe.
-This may seem extreme, but influencers who study the horrific effects of evening blue light will switch light bulbs in the home to red lights for evening use.
-As mentioned above – the use of blue blocker lenses, you will notice they are always a red/orange lens. For those working shift work, wearing blue blocker lenses will protect melatonin levels.
Nature always wins. We cannot override it; our cellular hormonal rhythm does not change; yet technology is rapidly changing. Supporting the circadian rhythm has been the same for centuries, following the rhythm of the sunrise and sunset. Slowly start to implement these changes. Awareness is key. The intention of this article is to also illustrate that just supplementing with melatonin is missing the point. Even if it is a “natural product” it is no different than using a pharmaceutical to cover up a symptom. Brio’s philosophy of healing is not anti-supplement; it is pro-circadian rhythm. There is so much balancing we can do to naturally support melatonin release. We therefore should not need to supplement it.
Happy Balancing. If sleep is an issue for you, bring it up to us during your next scheduled visit at Brio; we will start to implement a plan that best suits your rhythm for you and your family.
In health, Dr. Neetu