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Helping women reconnect with their body and achieve well-being

sleep and circadian cycle

June 2024

 

Sleep

  • The Science & Art Of A Good Night’s Sleep
  • Living With The Rhythem Of Nature
  • Sleep & Metabolism
  • Sleep & Your Mood

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Living with the rhythm of nature

The circadian rhythm is your inner natural clock of day and night. Light is a powerful regulator of the circadian clock. Sunlight has a diverse wavelength that includes all the colors of the rainbow, infrared and ultraviolet. Your body can perceive these colors through your eyes and your skin cells. 

The body uses changes in the length of sunlight waves to anticipate environmental changes and respond accordingly. 

Dawn light is heavy red and infrared light. The type of sleep we experience at dawn involves a higher proportion of lighter sleep stages, including REM sleep and NREM sleep N1 and N2. These sleep stages can help you transition from sleep to wakeful consciousness.  

sleep and the rhythm of nature
Dawn is a prime time for vivid dreams because brain activity gradually increases. 

The violet light waves prominent during dawn are soothing, healing, energizing, and anti-inflammatory.

There is a spike in blue light when the sun breaks the horizon. This blue light frequency sets the circadian rhythm. It reacts with key amino acids to support the production of critical hormones crucial for energy, mental health, sleep, and cell repair.

Morning exposure to blue light from the sun is particularly important. It helps signal your body that it’s time to wake up and start the day. This exposure also helps set the timing for melatonin production later in the evening, promoting a healthy sleep-wake cycle.

In the afternoon, light begins to lessen until sunset, when we return to red and infrared light, similar to dawn, and then shift to darkness. At this time, melatonin production peaks. 

 

 

What is Melatonin?

Melatonin is Produced by the pineal gland and regulates the sleep-wake cycle. Its levels rise in the evening to promote sleep and fall in the morning to help wake us up. Disruptions in melatonin production, often due to exposure to artificial light, can lead to sleep disorders.

Diet plays an important role in melatonin production. For example, foods rich in tryptophan, an amino acid and building block of melatonin, like turkey, cheese, and nuts, can boost melatonin production. 

Tryptophan acts as a building block for vitamin B3, too. Vitamin B3 is essential for turning glucose into fuel in the body. If your diet is high in carbohydrates, you will shuffle more tryptophan to energy production, so you might not have enough left for melatonin synthesis. To increase melatonin production, you want to reduce simple carbohydrates and increase protein intake.

A balanced gut bacteria ecology is crucial for melatonin production. Your gut bacteria produce 70% of the serotonin in your body. Serotonin is a precursor to melatonin. 

Natural light exposure during the day, particularly in the morning, helps regulate circadian rhythms and supports the timely production of melatonin in the evening.

 

 

What can compromise melatonin production?

Exposure to artificial light, especially blue light from screens (computers, smartphones, tablets, and TVs), can significantly suppress melatonin production. Artificial blue light is especially disruptive for melatonin production because it mimics daylight, tricking the brain into thinking it’s still daytime.

Stress can compromise melatonin production because stress triggers the release of cortisol, the hormone that keeps you awake and alert. Melatonin and cortisol have a seesaw action on the body. Once cortisol is increased, melatonin is decreased.

Your body likes things to be predictable. You might think it adapts to its environment, but in reality, it constantly predicts the odds of something happening and reacts to its predictions. Erratic bedtime confuses the body and leads to disrupted melatonin production. 

Stimulant drugs (Adderall), food (coffee or alcohol), or herbs can interfere with melatonin production.  

Melatonin production naturally declines with age, which can be why people experience sleep difficulties as they age.

 

The cortisol melatonin seesaw swing

Cortisol, known as a stress hormone, is actually more of an alert hormone. Because cortisol is associated with stress, most people seek ways to reduce cortisol production. But in the right times and “dosage,” cortisol is vital for your ability to function. Without it, you would never wake up in the morning. 

Cortisol plays on the seesaw swing with melatonin. Cortisol production begins at dawn with the first burst of blue light, peaks mid-day, and then lessens when melatonin production begins to increase.

A morning spike in cortisol will improve your immune system, metabolism, and ability to focus during the day and set the stage for sleep later at night. 

Going outside for fifteen minutes in the morning to expose yourself to natural sunlight is an easy, healthy way to help regulate your circadian cycle. 

Balancing cortisol and melatonin levels is essential for establishing a healthy circadian cycle and getting a good night’s sleep.

 

 

 

Practical tips to optimize melatonin and cortisol production

  1. Limit Blue Light Exposure: Avoid screens at least two hours before bedtime, or use blue light filters or glasses.
  2. Get Morning Sunlight: Spend time outside in the morning to help regulate your circadian rhythm.
  3. Maintain a Regular Sleep Schedule: Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day to support melatonin production.
  4. Manage Stress: Practice relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, meditation, or yoga to reduce stress levels.
  5. Mind Your Diet: Include foods rich in tryptophan and avoid caffeine and alcohol in the evening.

If sleep is a challenge, I invite you to join the Stress Gut & The Immune System program, where I share my sleep cheatsheet, including hacks for a good night’s sleep and herbal sleep support.
.If you are curious to learn more or need help designing a lifestyle that will optimize your well-being, book a 20-minute free consultation with me. 

 

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Disclaimer: This document is for educational and informational purposes only and solely as a self-help tool for your own use. I am not providing medical, psychological, or nutrition therapy advice. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat any health problems or illnesses without consulting your own medical practitioner. Always seek the advice of your own medical practitioner and/or mental health provider about your specific health situation. You can view my full disclaimer here.
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