7 Habits You Didn’t Realize Are Sabotaging Your Melatonin Production
There are so many factors that can affect your production of melatonin, which goes on behind the scenes deep inside your brain, and is most commonly associated with your ability to get to sleep. Without even realizing it, you may be partaking in a few habits and hobbies that disrupt the process, and keep the precious hormone at bay.
And that can impact your ability to fall asleep — as well as your overall health. "Melatonin is a hormone (the hormone of darkness), made by your body and involved in regulating the timing of your sleep," Dr. Roy Raymann, vice president of sleep science and scientific affairs at SleepScoreLabs, tells Bustle. "Disrupting melatonin secretion at night will affect your sleep and your hormone balance in general."
Because while melatonin can affect sleep, the impact doesn't stop there — making it even more important to ensure your habits aren't affecting its production. "It is involved in general health, including your heart health, eye health, [and] dealing with free radicals," Dr. Raymann says. "So, on the short-term it might have predominantly an affect on sleep, but in the long run, it will affect health, on top of the detrimental effects of poor sleep on health itself."
In order to avoid sabotaging your body, it can help to avoid certain activities that can throw melatonin levels out of whack. Here are a few habits that can affect melatonin production, according to experts.
1. Sleeping With The Curtains Open
Apart from blocking out neighbors, there's a reason why we close our curtains at night. So if you leave yours open, it may be time to rethink your evening routine.
"The release of melatonin is controlled by the biological clock in your brain and synchronized by light cues," Dr. Raymann says. "However, if we are exposed to light, the release can be hampered or stopped; the light tells the body it is day and concludes there is no melatonin needed."
2. Drinking Caffeine
Sipping on caffeinated beverages like coffee, tea, and some sodas "will affect neurotransmitters involved in melatonin release, and hence lower the melatonin levels," Dr. Raymann says. So definitely pay attention to how much you're drinking throughout the day.
While it's fine to have caffeine in the morning, switch to other drinks — like water or decaf tea — at around 2 p.m. so it has time to wear off in your system. And while you're at it, limit yourself to four cups of coffee a day. Doing so will make it easier to fall asleep at night.
3. High Intensity Exercise Before Bed
In many ways, fitting exercise into your daily routine can actually ramp up your body's melatonin production.
"Exercise is likely to increase the level of melatonin," Dr. Raymann says. "This is most likely related to the fact that the hormones and neurotransmitters that are released during exercise support melatonin syntheses."
But it's all about timing. "Late exercise is affecting the timing of the start of the release of melatonin (and as a consequence you will have lower levels in the start of evening)," he says. "It will push your melatonin rhythm to a later schedule over time. So, exercise is good for your melatonin, but other factors involved in exercise at night will counteract its soporific effects." Your best bet? Don't exercise too vigorously before bed.
4. Going To Bed Stressed
Everyone gets stressed from time to time, and you may occasionally have a night where you lie awake replaying the events of the day.
But since stress can impact your melatonin production, you may want to swap this habit out for one that's a little more calming. "Stress always involves an increase of the level of cortisol, and cortisol should be low during bedtime," Dr. Raymann says. "Cortisol triggers the body to be more alert, and that blocks the process of falling asleep. Next to that, factors that are involved in the synthesis of cortisol have been shown to suppresses melatonin. So, stress has been associated with low-melatonin."
To better handle your stress, consider adopting a few chill activities, such as reading something light-hearted, meditating, or doing a few yoga poses as a way of relaxing before bed.
5. Not Getting Enough Magnesium
While you may not spend much time thinking about this mineral, the effects of not having enough magnesium in your system can show up when it's time to sleep.
"It's hard to get a good night's sleep without enough of the mineral magnesium," Dr. Carolyn Dean, author of Hormone Balance, tells Bustle. "Magnesium facilitates sleep regulating melatonin (sleep hormone) production [and] studies have shown that magnesium helps you get a deep and restful sleep."
Supplements are available if need be, but you can also add more foods that contain magnesium to your diet, such as dark chocolate, avocados, nuts, legumes, and tofu — if you're deficient.
6. Falling Asleep With The Lights On
It might not seem like a big deal to fall asleep with the lights on, but it can have a bigger impact than you think.
By leaving lights on, "or any other acts that cause your melatonin to stay low, you will have difficulty falling or staying asleep," Beth Warren, MS, RDN, CDN, founder of Beth Warren Nutrition, tells Bustle.
This is, again, due to the way melatonin production is affected by light exposure. So it may be helpful to get used to sleeping in the dark, so your body can do its thing.
7. Being On Your Phone Late At Night
If you enjoy scrolling through social media, it may be something you want to do earlier in the evening, rather than later — not only to keep your stress levels low, but to keep the light out of your eyes.
"Being on your phone late at night can negatively impact melatonin production," therapist Katie Ziskind, LMFT tells Bustle "Your body converts serotonin to melatonin at night, but if you look at an illuminated screen, this [will] wake your brain up. Therefore, your brain doesn’t convert serotonin to melatonin."
It can be a tough habit to break, but one that you should try to replace over time with something less electronic. "Instead, read a book and spray lavender essential oil on your pillow to help your body and mind get a restful night of sleep to create melatonin," she says.
Melatonin production is a fickle thing, sometimes being impacted by the simplest of habits, like leaving your curtains open, scrolling through social media at night, or being stressed out before bed. But the good news is, it's easy to replace these habits with healthier ones, get a better night's sleep — and get that all-important melatonin.