In today’s hectic pace, day turns to night far too quickly for those of us with too much to do. More and more of us are working longer hours, long past the time when we should be winding down from the day’s activities. Working outside the home during the day means that chores typically done during the day get done in the evening. This extended work day interferes with our body’s responsibility to “shut us down” as day fades into darkness. This shutdown process begins when a decline in daylight sends a signal through the retina, eventually ending up at the pineal gland where the hormone melatonin is produced. Melatonin production rises at the close of each day. In the morning, when daylight hits the retina again, melatonin production slows. Light and night are clearly a major factor in melatonin production, however so are standardized daily routines. Try to eat meals at regular intervals and avoid exercising in the evening. Stimulants (such as caffeine) and heavy meals in the evening can also interfere with melatonin production. Over and above regulating sleep cycles, melatonin is one of the most powerful antioxidants known so far. It helps stimulate the immune system and plays an important part in the production of estrogen.
Melatonin is a neurohormone (a hormone, such as norepinephrine, produced by nerve cells and secreted into the circulation) that is produced in the pineal gland in the brain. To produce melatonin, tryptophan is converted to 5-hydroxytryptophan, which in turn is converted to serotonin (an important neurotransmitter that plays a role in mood, sleep and appetite). Serotonin, through a short series of conversion, is eventually converted to the hormone melatonin.
In a perfect world, as day fades into darkness, the changing light exposure is relayed through the retina to a part of the brain called the hypothalamus which is an area of the brain well known to coordinate the biological clock signals. From there, fibers from the hypothalamus descend to the spinal cord and ultimately to the superior cervical ganglia (the largest of the cervical ganglia, just opposite the 2nd and 3rd cervical vertebrae in your neck – a ganglia is a cluster of nerve cells). From there, it’s just a short trip to the pineal gland. The amazing little pineal gland then transforms what was travelling from your retina as an electrical signal into a hormone and sends it out into the rest of your the body.
HOW MELATONIN WORKS
In a healthy circadian cycle (a roughly 24-hour cycle in all living things) melatonin is released by the pineal gland in the brain when it starts to get dark. Melatonin prepares your body for sleep…by helping to break down the active, energetic hormones in your system (e.g., dopamine and norepinephrine) to allow your body to sleep and recuperate. It shuts down brain activity and makes it harder to think clearly or to concentrate. Melatonin also pulls oxygen and needed hormones away from your muscle tissue and other cells, making it difficult to be physically active. As a result, you feel tired, withdraw and want to go to sleep.
While you sleep, melatonin goes to work. Sometimes it is referred to as your body’s trash collector, because it goes to every cell in your body and cleans out the free radicals and other toxins that are harmful to your cells. Melatonin is perhaps the most powerful anti-oxidant your body has.
Melatonin also slows your system down, giving the heart and organs much needed rest. It does this by constricting the blood vessels in your arms and legs, pulling the blood away from your extremities and close to your vital organs. Your heart rate slows down, and your blood pressure falls significantly. Even in people with high blood pressure, melatonin causes their nighttime blood pressure to normalize.
Ever wonder why you get cold in the middle of the night? If melatonin is working properly, you should feel colder in the pre-dawn hours of 2:00-4:00a.m. That’s because you don’t have as much blood in your arms and legs and so your body temperature drops. If you don’t feel colder during these pre-dawn hours, you may not have enough melatonin in your system at night. 1
YOUR DIET AND MELATONIN PRODUCTION
Because we know that tryptophan is the precursor to serotonin, which is the precursor to melatonin, it is logical to conclude that eating foods rich in tryptophan during the evening meal will increase the amount of serotonin made by the brain. On the other hand, meals which contain a lot of high-protein foods, such as beef, consumed later in the evening will promote the production of dopamine and norepinephrine, which promote alertness.
Chicken and turkey are proteins, but are not as high in protein as beef. Even lower on the protein scale are foods such as pork, dairy, soy and beans, with the lowest being nuts and seeds.
Having said all this, it is a well-documented fact that you should try and eat your evening meal before 6:00 p.m. Eating any later than this throws your body into digestive mode and you want to be finished digesting the majority of your food by 8:00 p.m. so that your body has a full twelve hours to digest and detox. If your body is still digesting the majority of a meal when you go to bed, it could affect the quality of your sleep.
|Beef steak, 6 oz.
Tuna, 6 oz. can
Chicken breast, 4 oz.
Turkey, breast, 3.5 oz.
Hamburger patty, 4 oz.
Turkey, dark meat, 3.5 oz.Fish fillet, 3.5 oz.
Pork chop, average
Ham, 3 oz.
Cottage cheese, ½ cup
Chicken thigh, 1
Milk, 1 cup
Split peas, ½ cup cooked
Egg, 1 large
Bacon, 1 slice
BE SURE ABOUT MELATONIN
Produced in abundance until we’re in our twenties, melatonin helps to regulate sleep. Unfortunately, just when we need it (during a mid-life crisis, for instance) melatonin production begins to decline. Most people think melatonin is a natural sleeping pill but this couldn’t be further from the truth; melatonin on its own won’t induce sleep. Melatonin is a hormone which signals to the rest of the body that darkness is returning and that it needs to prepare for sleep. When taken at night, it simply speeds up sleep preparation. Because melatonin is also a powerful antioxidant, it cleans the toxins and free radicals from your vital organs and cells as you sleep. Timing is everything when taking melatonin. If taken during daytime brightness, your body clock will receive mixed signals and begin to malfunction. It’s best not to take melatonin for more than two weeks. You should consult with your primary health care provider if your sleep irregularities last longer than that.
Melatonin is generally used in conjunction with light therapy to alleviate sleep disorders in the elderly (where melatonin levels are found to be the lowest) and in shift workers. In the case of jet lag, especially when crossing time zones, it has been repeatedly demonstrated that taking melatonin close to the target bedtime of the destination can alleviate symptoms.
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1. Talk About Sleep
List of High-Protein Foods and Amount of Protein in Each
Carol Roy is a Natural Health Practitioner who received her diploma from the Alternative Medicine College of Canada in Montreal, Quebec. With 12 years experience in her area of expertise, natural health and wellness, Carol has also trained to become a fully qualified Reiki Master, Quantum Touch Practitioner, and Reflexologist.
The suggestions by Nutter’s Bulk & Natural Foods and the contents of this article
are recommendations only and not a substitute for any medical advice or a
replacement for any prescriptions. Seek medical advice for any health concerns.
Consult your health care provider before using any recommendations herein.