Did You Know – Melatonin

By | February 17, 2016

There are aspects of how physics and biology work that seem counterintuitive on the surface or perhaps just irrelevant and immaterial. When you connect enough dots and understand the linkages and the big picture, however, things suddenly become intuitive. It’s almost as if you’ve been looking at a painting upside down and all of a sudden someone walks by and rotates it 180 degrees, and you have that “Ahah!” moment. I know a lot of friends and family think I’m a little crazy for doing the things I do, but perhaps this will shed some light – pun intended – on those seemingly “weird” behaviors! The first topic I want to discuss is melatonin. 

Melatonin is one of those things of which most people, even with a lack of health and wellness education, seem to have a passing understanding. Most have heard of it, many know our body produces it to get us to sleep at night, and some even know that it is sold in stores as a sleep supplement (which may not necessarily be a good idea – more on that later). I think we can all agree that melatonin is absolutely essential for sleep and that having optimal levels of the hormone is important to our health.
There has also been new emerging research about light and other parts of the electromagnetic spectrum – sunlight, “fake” light, blue light, and man-made non-visible electromagnetic frequencies (EMF) – and how they impact your health and your sleep. Could this possibly be true? Are they really that big of a deal? Well, you know about melatonin and its connection to sleep, but what about the rest of the story?
Did you know that your body uses UV light to produce melatonin out of serotonin? So if UV light is required to make melatonin, does that mean we need UV light present at night? Wait, that doesn’t make sense? No, it doesn’t. Your body actually stores the UV light frequencies that it captures during the day and offloads that energy at night when it needs it to make melatonin. What this does imply, however, is that if you don’t get exposed to UV light in the morning, then your sleep is ruined at night. If you have no UV, you can’t make melatonin, and you can’t get to sleep easily. If you have the time, though long, this reading is very insightful.
Did you know that blue light (specifically at night) destroys melatonin production? You may have heard of those studies that blue light exposure after dark is bad for you. The reason for this is that our body’s circadian rhythms sense things about our environment to determine how to adapt our metabolic activity (should we wake up and do stuff, or should we power down and sleep?). Blue light is most present naturally in the morning and is relatively high powered for visible spectrum light, thus our bodies have evolved to use it as a queue to wake up and do stuff. Likewise, when the sun falls and it becomes dark, the absence of light triggers our body’s to prepare for sleep (que melatonin). If you have blue light present at night, however (TVs, phones, LEDs, overhead lighting, etc.), your body puts the breaks on melatonin, and you can’t get to sleep. Or if you do somehow fall asleep, you won’t reach the stages of deep sleep necessary for regeneration. I’d advise anyone to read this article/interview
Did you know that melatonin is also one of the most powerful antioxidants (directly and indirectly) in your body? All that free radical damage that is done during the day, all that oxidative stress, is meant to be cleaned up at night when we regenerate…if we have melatonin present in sufficient quantities. If we do not, we lose the regeneration benefit of sleep and continue accumulating oxidative stress damage and poorly functioning mitochondria as a result, and we age faster and get chronic illness. This paper is quite comprehensive
Did you know that non-native EMF frequencies have also been shown to reduce melatonin production by increasing cortisol? Melatonin and cortisol, like many things yin and yang, behave together in a coupled cycle; when one goes up, the other goes down, thus creating a natural feedback loop. This feedback loop is also why supplementing melatonin could be a bad idea because there may not be the same feedback loop when you take it as a supplement, only if your body produces it. Cortisol appears in the morning (stimulated by the blue light frequency in the sun) and wakes us up and energizes us. Cortisol drops later as melatonin takes over at night. Being around non-native EMF, however, things like Wi-Fi signals and cell phones and computers, has been shown to kick cortisol back up and subsequently prevent melatonin’s appearance. This results in more stress and stimulation at the wrong time of day and, again, lack of deep, regenerative sleep at night. Here’s a good read.
Hopefully now you can see how intricately tied sleep and regeneration are to visible light (and even other parts of the electromagnetic spectrum) and why light, and the timing of light, is so important to our health. And you can see how being tied to nature’s cycles make this so easy to get right. You need to get light exposure in the morning to have the ability to make melatonin at night. Well great, the sun comes out in the morning, so I can just go outside! Then you have to have an absence of light at night before your body is cued to make melatonin. Well great, it’s normally dark outside at night cause the sun goes down! The only thing preventing darkness are the lights on your TV and your phone and your lamps…I guess I can just turn those off now! Then your tech gadgets’ EMF may be inhibiting these processes too…well I guess I can turn those off and leave them alone at night too!
These effects are real, and they’re kind of a big deal. No matter how weird and inconvenient they are, it’s still the way the universe operates. It’s always hard to believe something that doesn’t have a noticeable impact or effect right in the moment, but that’s why we have bunches of smart people in lab coats figuring this stuff out so that we can be aware of it. Technology and progress have gotten us a lot of things, but we need to understand the consequences as well. When you’re fully aware, then you can make the choices that best serve you.

2 thoughts on “Did You Know – Melatonin

  1. Unknown

    I will say, as your friendly pharmacist, melatonin is the safest sleep aid I suggest in reference to drug drug interactions and addictive potential. I learned more about melatonin reading this than I ever did at pharmacy school. Thanks for the post.

  2. Brett Bloemendaal

    Thanks so much, friendly pharmacist. Glad it was helpful. Based on everything I've read about it and my own personal experience with "sleep hacking" certainly seems like something that's best regulated in a natural manner rather than taking as a supplement. For what it's worth, I personally let my light environment drive my melatonin cycle as natured intended!


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