Chronic lack of sleep is a very common problem. Many people who suffer from this problem feel that it gets worse during the summer because it is difficult to fall asleep when it is still light outside. Being unable to sleep properly can be a substantial stress factor, especially if you have to get up early. Losing as little as one hour of sleep can affect your concentration, mood, immune defense, fertility, and your need for sugar and stimulants. Also, chronic lack of sleep increases your risk of overweight, accelerated ageing, depression, Alzheimer’s disease, cardiovascular disease, cancer, and a lot more. According to an article that is published in MedicalNewsToday, the natural hormone melatonin and a few practical guidelines can work wonders for your sleep and this is essential for your health.
Daylight savings, the concept where we set the clock one hour forward to make better use of the light summer nights, was introduced as a way to save energy. Unfortunately, daylight savings is also associated with an increased number of heart attacks, work-related accidents, and car accidents that happen because we have not yet adjusted ourselves to the new 24-hour rhythm. Lack of sleep and low levels of the neurotransmitter melatonin may also have several negative effects on our health – in the short and long run.
Melatonin is important for our 24-hour clock, sleep pattern, and health
Melatonin plays a major role in our sleep, the 24-hour rhythm of cells, and it supports a host of physiological processes. It is a neurotransmitter that is primarily produced by the pineal gland in the center of the brain. There is a direct nerve connection from the eyes to the pineal gland. The astronomical day is designed to ensure that morning light makes us wake up and start producing serotonin, a neurotransmitter with a number of functions. Once it starts getting dark outside, serotonin is converted into melatonin by way of some enzyme processes. Melatonin evokes a drowsiness that generates natural sleep and dream activity. It is for this reason that humans, since the beginning of time, have felt best if they could get plenty of light during the day and sleep in total darkness at night.
Melatonin is also a powerful antioxidant that protects our cells against oxidative stress. No other antioxidant is ble to replace melatonin and its particularly wide range of action. Using different mechanisms, melatonin influences nearly all physiological processes that relate to the cellular clock, energy turnover, nervous system, cardiovascular system, hormone system, and immune system.
Why plenty of sleep is so vital
It is essential to get enough sleep to allow us to digest our food, recharge our batteries, and detoxify – physically and mentally. The dream phase of our sleep is called REM (Rapid Eye Movement) and can be compared to a mental sorting and laundering of all the impressions we have experienced during the day. At the same time, it improves learning, memory, creativity, and good mood
In this deep sleep stage, toxic metabolic waste products that are formed in our waking hours are removed from the brain.
In the short run, lack of sleep can cause fatigue, impaired performance, bad moods, increased need for sugar and stimulants, impaired immune defense, and increased risk of accidents. In the long run, it increases the risk of overweight, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, depression, dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, and cancer. Studies also show that lack of sleep speeds up the ageing process by shortening the telomers that protect our DNA.
How the long, light nights and the ravages of time affect our melatonin production
Normally, levels of melatonin in our blood go up after nightfall and they peak between 2 and 4 am. But the long and extra light summer nights delay our melatonin production and that is a problem for those people who need to be in bed by 9 or 10 pm and get at least eight hours of sleep before getting up again around 5 or 6 am.
Many teenagers and younger individuals already suffer from circadian rhythm disturbances and have difficulty with falling asleep before midnight and can hardly wake up in the morning. This condition is known as delayed sleep phase syndrome and occurs in individuals that have problems with their circadian rhythm (24-hour clock).
Menopause can also cause serious sleep disorders because the melatonin production drops rapidly.
As we grow older, our pineal gland calcifies and our melatonin production decreases correspondingly. This is why many older people suffer from sleep disturbances.
Lower melatonin production generally impairs your quality of sleep, just like there are any environmental factors that can interfere with your melatonin production.
Environmental factors that lower the body’s melatonin production
The main culprit is exposure to artificial light at night, especially the so-called blue light from smartphones, computer screens, television sets, and energy-saving light bulbs.
Stress, working night shifts, shift work, and crossing several time zones when traveling by air can also have a negative effect on the body’s natural 24-hour rhythm and melatonin production.
The same goes for coffee, alcohol, sleep medication, and narcotic drugs.
One should also be careful with exposure to electrosmog from cell phones, television, wi-fi routers, transmission towers, elevation beds etc.
Melatonin as a natural sleeping pill
Over the past decades, several studies have demonstrated melatonin’s positive effect on sleep quality and various health problems. A meta-analysis that is described in MedicalNewsToday shows that melatonin supplements can make it easier to fall asleep and sleep through the night compared with placebo. Melatonin supplements are like a shortcut to natural sleep because they compensate for lack of melatonin in the body, regardless if the deficiency is caused by daylight savings, excessive light exposure in the night time, night shift work, shift work, or jet lag, all of which are factors that disrupt the melatonin production of the pineal gland. A melatonin supplement, in other words, promotes the natural sleep that is so vital for our health and mood. In contrast to sleeping pills, melatonin is not associated with any serious side effects. In fact, you get all the positive effects of melatonin such as its unique antioxidant function that protects cells and tissues against oxidative stress.
Stephanie Watson. All you need to know about melatonin. MedicalNewsToday. 2020
James Ives: Chronic sleep deprivation linked to increased biological aging and cardiovascular disease risk. News Medical Life Sciences. 2019.
Samir Malhorta et al. The Therapeutic Potential of Melatonin: A Review of the Science. Medscape January 10, 2019
Det sundhedsvidenskabelige Fakultet: Science hædrer professor Maiken Nedergaard for ”Årets Artikel”. 2015
Dun Xian Tan. Pineal Calcification, melatonin Production, Aging, Associated Health Consequences and Rejuvenation of the Pineal Gland. Molecules 2018
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