By Tracy Kopp – Chiropractor
Struggling with sleep? You’re not alone. Up to 45% of Australian adults report noticing problems in their daily life caused by poor sleep quality. One of the most underappreciated causes of poor sleep is a lack of melatonin.
Melatonin is a hormone produced in the pineal gland that regulates our sleep cycle. When our bodies are functioning optimally, we produce melatonin in the evening and this induces sleep. Exposure to sunlight in the morning shuts off melatonin production and ‘resets’ the cycle – hi, circadian rhythm! Melatonin has a bunch of other jobs, too. It is an antioxidant and is important in maintaining blood pressure. It is also considered to play various roles in decreasing inflammation and boosting the immune system. In order to produce the required amount of melatonin to regulate your sleep cycle, your brain requires sunlight during the day.
Sunlight entering your eyes sends signals to your brain that regulate the production of melatonin. Sunlight exposure also boosts the production of serotonin, which is our ‘happy’ hormone, and Vitamin D. Research suggests that around 20 minutes of sunlight per day is enough to produce the melatonin that we need. If it’s overcast, don’t worry, getting outside on a cloudy day still allows us to get the sunlight we need. Don’t forget to be Sunsmart and wear protective clothing and sunglasses and a hat, of course. It’s important to note that exposure to bright light at night decreases our body’s production of melatonin, and this is why using screens before bed is a no no.
If you resemble one of the baddies from The Walking Dead some days, our first question is ‘Are you getting some sunshine?’. For so many of us, we wake up in our shady house, get into our shady car, drive to our shady office. When we do leave the confines of our workplace, we may walk half a block to get a coffee (which has been shown to affect melatonin production, too, just by the way) and back, then into the shady building again till we head home, often in the dark.
Our Naturopaths see lots of clients who have difficulty falling, or staying, asleep. If your sun exposure is adequate, we can help to determine other factors that may be affecting your sleep. If the cause is diet or mood-related , we have loads of powerful herbs and supplements at our disposal to help. We work holistically, too, and this means that if the practitioner you see thinks you’d be better helped by someone else, they’ll refer you.