I’ve spent the past few days researching a talk for LEDucation in New York in March.
It’s an incredible line-up – over 400 exhibitors, 49 sessions and loads of great people to meet. I’ll be talking about the need to look beyond the simple Melatonin solution and stand up for integrated approaches to healthy workplaces. The talk is called Bursting the Melatonin Bubble: New Perspectives on Human-Centric Lighting. It would be amazing to see any of you there – Link to register is here.
Digging around to find the latest research is my all-time favourite thing to do- as you probably know by now! here are some nuggets you might enjoy.
Melatonin v Vitamin D – two sides of the same coin?
You may be a fan of the sunshine vitamin D for physical and mental health. You may even take a supplement through the winter. Check out – Michael Moseley’s Just One Thing to learn more about this brilliant natural high.
Perhaps it’s time we took Melatonin as seriously too.
There are some powerful parallels: both anti-inflammatory, mood and memory-enhancing, free-range radical-mopping all-round wonder-drugs – Melatonin the “light of night” in human biology and adolescent idiopathic scoliosis.
Melatonin is running the show after dark in almost every living organism on the planet. It’s built from the amino acid Tryptophan you get from your diet (lots in dark chocolate – yay!) and linked to serotonin – L-Tryptophan: Basic Metabolic Functions, Behavioral Research and Therapeutic Indications.
A fall in light levels triggers a rise in pineal melatonin, flooding the body with a cue to get set for the critical work of growth, repair and learning that can only get underway when you’re safely offline.
But just as our indoor lives mean we don’t get enough sunlight in the day, artificial light at night means it never gets dark enough to get the melatonin hit you need. Your body and brain struggle to cope. Just one night with a standard indoor light is enough to make you feel down – Light exposure during sleep impairs cardiometabolic function. But the effects over time are devastating – Artificial light and neurodegeneration: does light pollution impact the development of Alzheimer’s disease?
You can take a melatonin supplement to boost your natural levels. But there is no consensus on an effective dose – International Expert Opinions and Recommendations on the Use of Melatonin in the Treatment of Insomnia and Circadian Sleep Disturbances in Adult Neuropsychiatric Disorders. The formulation varies widely and may contain bioactive molecules and hormones too – Current Insights into the Risks of Using Melatonin as a Treatment for Sleep Disorders in Older Adults.
The only reliable solution? The Real Deal!
Take care of your pineal gland so it can take care of you!
The amount of melatonin you produce shifts radically with age. From low levels at birth (the foetus plugs into the mother’s melatonin in the womb) – Maternal Serum Melatonin Increases During Pregnancy and Falls Immediately After Delivery Implicating the Placenta as a Major Source of Melatonin. Levels peak in adolescence (teens are twice as sensitive to evening light as siblings or parents) – Sensitivity of the circadian system to evening bright light in preschool-age children.
Levels fall away as you age. Perhaps because older eyes’ pupils don’t open as wide and the yellowing lense cuts out more and more of the sky blue wavelengths that are like caffeine for the brain. But we now know that red-sensing cones kick in to give that sky blue-sensing pathway a hand. Most of the signal to the brain is conserved – S-cone contribution to the acute melatonin suppression response in humans.
So the real reason for the sharp decline in pineal melatonin could be calcium deposits that build up over time – just like kidney stones. A clogged up melatonin machine contributes to schizophrenia, Alzheimers and depression – Molecular and cellular mechanisms of aging: modern concepts.
You can help your pineal gland to stay on track-
Gene therapy is one radical route – Pineal Calcification, Melatonin Production, Aging, Associated Health Consequences and Rejuvenation of the Pineal Gland.
But prevention is better than cure
Melatonin and midnight snacks
Your gut needs to know whether to expect a meal anytime soon, and have time to digest before you power down to sleep. That takes between two and six hours, depending on how much and what you eat – Food, Eating, and the Gastrointestinal Tract.
Like the pineal gland, your gut produces melatonin as a signal of night, a time without food. It churns out almost 400 times more than the pineal gland.
So a snack after dark creates a clash between pineal and gut signals and your body struggles to cope, crashing melatonin levels and eating into the quality and quantity of sleep – Circadian Rhythms and Melatonin Metabolism in Patients With Disorders of Gut-Brain Interactions.
It also chips away at your ability to burn off the calories, and resist a second helping. That increases your waistline, risk of diabetes and a sugar spike the next day – Impact of Meal Timing and Chronotype on Food Reward and Appetite Control in Young Adults.
So aim to eat at least two hours before bed so your eye and gut can stay in step.
Did you know…
Animals in cold climates have bigger pineal glands than those who evolved closer to the equator – The pineal gland and geographical distribution of animals.
The antartic seal has one of the biggest and most active, pumping out over 1,000 times more melatonin than their parents – or over 27 times more than a healthy human adult – The pineal gland is very large and active in newborn antarctic seals.
No wonder they can fall asleep on the ice!