As winter approaches we are all adjusting to a new internal clock. Let talk about ways to help our bodies adjust and support a healthy sleep cycle.
We know we need to sleep for energy, fresh thinking, and a good mood, but did you also know that while we are asleep our brain is detoxing? This mechanism is called the glymphatic system. While asleep your brain is working to clean out potentially neurotoxic waste products that naturally accumulate when we are awake. Not getting enough quality sleep can cause these waste products to build up. As a result, we may experience symptoms like brain fog in the short term or neurodegenerative disorders in the long term.
How to Naturally Make Melatonin
You may have already heard about melatonin, the hormone that regulates our sleep and wakefulness. Poor sleep may mean your body is coming up short on producing enough melatonin. Here are some ways to increase melatonin production:
1. Melotonin To make melatonin we need the amino acid tryptophan. Foods high in tryptophan include red meat, poultry, bananas, potatoes, leafy greens, spirulina, pumpkin and squash seeds, mozzarella cheese, beans, lentils, and eggs. Along with tryptophan we also need vitamins and minerals such as B6, Magnesium and vitamin C to help convert this amino acid into melatonin.
2. Healthy Gut Bacteria In addition to getting enough of the melatonin “building blocks,” we need healthy gut bacteria to begin the conversion of tryptophan into serotonin, and then into melatonin. Once again we see that a healthy gut microbiome is important for our overall health.
3. Exercise and sun exposure These are additional ways to improve a good nights rest. These both support the conversion pathway of tryptophan into serotonin, and then into melatonin. (Not to mention the uptick in mood from the extra serotonin.) If you have ever had a day full of either exercise and/or sun I am sure you slept great that night!
What Keeps Us Up?
1. Blue Light First, let’s talk about things that can interfere with melatonin production. Blue light at night tells the body it is daytime, interfering with our body’s production of melatonin. Avoiding blue light from screens and bright lights before sleep is ideal to help support melatonin production. Even a small amount of light coming through your window or a digital clock can prevent a full night rest by impeding melatonin production.
2. Stress Sleep can also be impacted by the amount of stress we have in our lives. Do you often wake up between 2 and 4 am and can’t get back to bed? This is a sign your adrenal glands are overworked. In today’s world, if our adrenal glands are constantly at work, releasing cortisol to keep us at a fast pace each day, they can often release that built up cortisol around 2-4am. This jolt of cortisol wakes us up and keeps us up. For this reason, slowing down each day and taking time to mindfully destress can improve your sleep at night.
3. Cortisol When we ignore your body’s cue that it is time to head to bed (usually around 9 or 10pm) our adrenals kick in and release cortisol to keep us up. This is why at 9 pm you could pass out in a minute but if you ignore that signal and head to bed at midnight, you can end up lying awake in bed for hours.
4. Blood Sugar Poor blood sugar control can also wake up at night. Around 2:00 am our body starts to produce its own sugar for energy. This is called gluconeogenesis. This jolt of energy into our bloodstream can wake us up. Balancing meals and foods to regulate blood sugar can improve sleep.
Note: Often times blood sugar dysregulation or adrenal imbalance wake us up and we then realize have to pee, while we are left thinking it was only a full bladder that disrupted our sleep.