Updated: Dec 10, 2019
There she was, plonked out on the sofa again after yet another disaster evening of trying to get the kids to bed. All day she had been looking forward to her “me time”, but now that the kids are finally in bed, it’s 9pm she’s too exhausted to do anything other than plonk it on the couch with a glass of wine and watch Netflix.
This was of my clients this week in tears and completely fed up. She wanted to know why the hell her kids struggle so badly to fall asleep and what's the low down on Melatonin...
Let me try to break it down for you. Our natural sleep/wake cycle is controlled by Melatonin, you know, that new beaut synthetic wonder capsule everyone is talking about that temporarily mimics our natural hormone. It is naturally derived from the amino acid tryptophan and the brain chemical known as serotonin.
Many factors can contribute to low production of Melatonin including - poor sleep hygiene, hormonal or neurotransmitter imbalance, some medications, poor diet, stress, poor gut health and shift work. As we know reduced sleep has a negative impact on our whole entire system increasing risk factors for most major illnesses, and affects your metabolism, immune system, mood, focus, concentration, and more. This is because our bodies rejuvenate during sleep. It’s when our brain forges new neural connections, which improves ability for learning and memory, and enables the absorption and retention of new information.
You know me, I will always recommend that people investigate and address the root cause before jumping in with intervention. Firstly, you need to make sure that diet and lifestyle aren’t in the way of you making your own production of the wonderful melatonin before racing off to purchase the synthetic replacement.
Magnesium is important because it regulates melatonin, so start in the kitchen with high magnesium foods such as green leafy vegetables, raw cacao, nuts and seeds. Combine these with good helpings of fruits, avocado, banana, pineapple, gogi berries and cherries which include tryptophan and you have a good recipe to improve natural melatonin production.
Secondly, sleep hygiene is important to optimise the benefits of an enriched diet, it’s important to make sure the environment is conducive to winding down. Try to make bedtime the same time every night, the body loves routine. Get rid of the fluorescent bulbs, and use a lamp, or dimmers instead. Light slows the production of melatonin especially blue light so put away the ipad and TV at least half an hour before bed. Body temperature is equally important. We can’t fall asleep if we are too hot, so make sure the bedtime bath is at least 45mins before bed. This is the perfect amount of time for the body to cool down enough for sleep. You might also want to think about adding magnesium salts and a few drop of lavender essential oil to the bath for maximum effect!
Keep the stress hormones down and the melatonin up. On top of helping the kiddos wind down faster, you get your nights (and sanity) back!
Supplementation with magnesium, relaxation herbs, supplements and co-factors for melatonin production is often advised by Naturopaths for numerous reasons. However, If you do choose to try Melatonin, it’s important to be aware that long term safety has not been fully established. This doesn't mean that it's not effective, or even that it's unsafe, it just highlights that short term use is best, with dosage as little possible (please seek professional advice to ensure safety for your individual case).