When Should You Eat
Research suggests that the time of day you eat may affect your sleep. We all have an internal body clock that tracks the time of day and, it seems, a feeding clock that tracks meal times.
The research shows that when a mouse eats at irregular times its body clock gets out of sync. When food is limited, the feeding clock overrides the body clock, keeping the mouse awake until it locates food. Studies with mice are not necessarily indicative of humans, but it is interesting to note that sleep patterns may be affected by eating patterns.
The Body’s Internal Clock
The sleep-wake cycle is controlled by the body’s internal clock. Many other bodily functions also wax and wane cyclically in response to the 24-hour circadian rhythm. For example, normal body temperature is lowest at about 5 a.m., when it averages 97° F, and highest at about 5 p.m., when it averages 99.4° F. Similarly, sodium excretion and urine output are normally higher during the day than at night. Hormone levels also fluctuate cortisol secretion is highest during the morning. Testosterone production peaks in the morning, growth hormone at night. Melatonin, the “dark hormone,” is produced by the brain’s pineal gland during the night.
The daily cycles of light and darkness help set the body’s internal clock. Disturbances in the normal coordination of light and darkness with wakefulness and sleep account for the temporary sleep disturbance of jet lag or the chronic disorders experienced by many shift workers. Travel is a common cause of disturbed sleep today, but similar disturbances originated long before the jet age Robert Burton got it right way back in 1628 when he said, “Our body is like a clock, if one wheel is amiss, all the rest are disordered… with such admirable art and harmony is a man composed.”
Deep Sleep: What Is It And How To Measure And Optimize It
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Using Melatonin For Anxiety
Using melatonin for anxiety is as simple as taking a melatonin supplement before bed. These supplements come in tablet form and can be taken by mouth or dissolved under the tongue. Clinical studies suggest taking 3-10 milligrams before bed for optimal results. Higher doses of melatonin do not necessarily work better.
As you begin looking for melatonin supplements, look for reputable, high-quality options. Supplements like melatonin arent regulated by the Food and Drug Administration , so it pays to do your research and find reliable and trusted options. For example, some supplements are verified by the United States Pharmacopeia, which means theyll be free of contaminants and safe to consume.
Balance Your Blood Sugar
A 2005 review published in the Journal of Applied Physiology has found that poor sleep can increase the risk of insulin resistance, blood sugar issues, and type 2 diabetes . On the other hand, blood sugar imbalances can interfere with stable energy during the day and natural tiredness at night.
Blood sugar imbalances can cause sugar crashes, quick bursts of energy, insomnia, and disrupted sleep. A 2020 study by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute published in the Journal of the American Heart Association has found an association between high blood sugar and sleep apnea .
To keep our blood sugar levels stable, I recommend following an anti-inflammatory diet low in sugar and carbs and high in healthy fats. I recommend eating lots of greens, vegetables, herbs, spices, fermented foods, grass-fed butter and ghee, grass-fed beef, pasture-raised poultry and eggs, wild-caught fish, and wild game. You may learn more about the ketogenic diet I recommend in this article.
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Why Cant You Take Valerian Root And Melatonin Together
Both valerian root and melatonin are natural sleeping aids. They are both generally safe to use and thus are available over the counter. As discussed above even natural products have side effects and drug interactions.
Both valerian root and melatonin are considered as nervous system depressants or sedatives. Their sedating effects promote sleep in the body. Since both of them are sedatives, they can potentiate the effect of the other causing drowsiness, sleepiness, and lack of concentration.
The two sedatives can also affect you when you are driving or operating machines which can lead to accidents. The two over the counter sleeping aids should not, therefore, be used together.
It is also not recommended to combine valerian root or melatonin with the over the counter sleeping aids or prescription sleep aids for the same reason. Also alcohol being a sedative should not be taken with either of the two herbal supplements.
If you need to use both herbal medicines, you can alternate evenings when melatonin and valerian root are taken. They should not be taken on the same night. This way you prevent potentiating the effect of the other sleeping aid.
How To Take Melatonin And Getting Your Bedroom Ready
In addition to taking melatonin, itâs beneficial to make sure your bedroom gives you the best opportunity for a good nightâs sleep. This means turning off any screens , turning the thermostat down, and turning on ambient noise, like a fan or gentle, soothing music. Some people find that aromatherapy is also helpful. You also want to make sure your room is as dark as possible because this helps your mind tell your body itâs time to sleep.
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Reasons You Might Have Vivid Dreams After Taking Melatonin
If you are having particularly vivid or bad dreams after taking melatonin, it may be your bodys natural response to falling into a deeper, more restful sleep. Studies have found that melatonin can increase REM sleep, the sleep cycle known for causing vivid dreams. If you are spending more time in the stage of sleep where vivid dreams are most likely to occur, this may naturally lead to increases in bad/vivid dreams, says Dr. Drerup.
When youre sleeping, melatonin also releases vasotocin, a protein that regulates REM sleep, she adds. Increased amounts of melatonin may lead to higher levels of vasotocin therefore more REM sleep and potentially vivid dreams. Scientists are also exploring the links between melatonin and memory. A 2020 study found that after melatonin broke down in the body, one of the resulting molecules helped mice improve their long-term memory.
Rem Vs Deep Sleep: Whats The Difference
Before looking at any connection between melatonin and dreams, it helps to understand the two main stages of sleep.
- Non-REM sleep: When does non-REM sleep occur? This phase occurs first and is the change from wakefulness to sleep that consists of three sub-phases. It starts with a short, light sleep, where your heartbeat, breathing and eye movements slow down and your muscles start to relax, followed by another light sleep where your body and brain slow down and relax even further. Finally, you reach the deep sleep phase that you need to feel refreshed in the morning.2
- REM sleep: When does REM sleep occur? This initially happens about 60 to 90 minutes after you fall asleep. Your eyes move rapidly from side to side , your brain activity increases, your breathing gets faster and irregular, and your heart rate increases. Most of your dreaming occurs during REM sleep, although some can also occur in non-REM sleep. Also, memory is processed and stored during the REM sleep cycle.2 Your first REM period is short , but as the night goes on, youll experience longer REM sleep and less deep sleep.3
Youre not in each stage of sleep just once. Instead, you cycle repeatedly through all stages of sleep roughly four to six times a night, sometimes waking up briefly between cycles.4 How long is a sleep cycle? A full sleep cycle takes about 90 to 110 minutes.3
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Substance Use And Withdrawal
- Opioid medications
Caffeine is the stimulant found in coffee, tea, and many other beverages. Caffeine may reduce deep sleep. This effect can even happen hours after you consume it.
Benzodiazepines, the class of tranquilizer drugs that includes Valium , may also reduce deep sleep. Opioid medications can have the same effect.
Some medications may increase deep sleep. These include:
Trazodone is an older antidepressant that is often used as a sleep aid. This drug appears to interact with histamines, compounds released during allergic reactions. This seems to increase deep sleep.
Some sleep aids don’t seem to impact deep sleep one way or another. These non-benzodiazepine sleep aids include:
- Ambien, Zolpimist, Edluar
Alcohol And Sleep Apnea
Sleep apnea is a disorder characterized by abnormal breathing and temporary loss of breath during sleep. These lapses in breathing can in turn cause sleep disruptions and decrease sleep quality. Obstructive sleep apnea occurs due to physical blockages in the back of the throat, while central sleep apnea occurs because the brain cannot properly signal the muscles that control breathing.
During apnea-related breathing episodes which can occur throughout the night the sleeper may make choking noises. People with sleep apnea are also prone to loud, disruptive snoring. Some studies have suggested that alcohol contributes to sleep apnea because it causes the throat muscles to relax, which in turn creates more resistance during breathing. This can exacerbate OSA symptoms and lead to disruptive breathing episodes, as well as heavier snoring. Additionally, consuming just one serving of alcohol before bed can lead to OSA and heavy snoring even for people who have not been diagnosed with sleep apnea.
The relationship between sleep apnea and alcohol has been researched somewhat extensively. The general consensus based on various studies is that consuming alcohol increases the risk of sleep apnea by 25%.
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Can Melatonin Supplements Improve Sleep
It is well-established that melatonin produced by the body plays a fundamental role in getting quality sleep, so its natural to consider whether melatonin supplements can be used to address sleeping difficulties.
Research to date has shown that melatonin supplements may be useful in certain situations for both adults and children.
Sleep Problems Melatonin Can Help With
If you and your doctor think that a melatonin supplement could be right for you, you may wonder what sleep disorders or problems it can help.
While we cant say definitively for everyone, there is research backing melatonin supplements helping with these common sleep issues:
- Menopause-induced sleep issues, including hot flashes
- Restless leg syndrome
- Sleep problems stemming from conditions like ADHD, like sleep disordered breathing
- Jet lag
Jet lag, in particular, has been one issue Ive routinely used melatonin to tackle. Ive mentioned before that, when traveling, Ill take 0.5 mg of melatonin about 90 minutes before I want to fall asleep in my new city. Ill also add 20 minutes of light therapy in the morning, to help my body continue to adjust.
And if you want to get additional benefits out of your melatonin supplement, make sure youre optimizing your daily routine for sleep by finding out your chronotype. Dont know your chronotype? No big deal just head over to chronoquiz.com. Its quick and easy.
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How To Get More Deep Sleep
The most important thing that you can do to increase your amount of deep sleep is to allow yourself adequate total sleep time. Often, individuals will deprive themselves of adequate total sleep. In addition to reducing deep sleep, REM sleep is also shortened.
There is some data to suggest that vigorous exercise can increase or consolidate deep sleep. Some sleep specialists recommend aerobic activities like jogging, running, and swimming. For those who are prone to insomnia, it is best to exercise earlier in the day and not before bedtime.
What The Experts Do
Lower the Light to Prep for Sleep
Johns Hopkins sleep expert Luis F. Buenaver, Ph.D., C.B.S.M., keeps the lights low in the evening to help his mind and body prepare forsleep. But if he has to work in the evening or answer emails, he usesfilters to screen out the blue and green wavelengths of light emitted byhis smartphone and computer. Your brain associates this light withdaytime, and it can interfere with melatonins sleep-promoting effects. Afilter can help. Many types of blue-light filters are available online andin stores.
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Melatonin For Anxiety: What The Research Says
Now that weve drawn a connection between melatonin and mental health, lets take a closer look at the evidence and systematic reviews that support these claims.
Much of the human research on melatonin has been conducted on patients undergoing a surgical procedure. Surgery is often a stressful and anxiety-inducing process, and medications are often used to curb such anxiety. But recent research suggests melatonin may be equally as effective as prescription medication.
A 2015 meta-analysis that looked at studies comparing the use of melatonin to anti-anxiety medication and a placebo sugar pill found that taking melatonin before surgery was more effective at reducing anxiety than the sugar pill. Most studies also suggested melatonin was equally as effective as the heavier medication.
Some studies found that melatonin also helped reduce anxiety after the procedure, but other studies found no benefit.
A 2018 study found that melatonin helped reduce anxiety as well as Alprazolam, a sedative drug used to promote sleep before surgery. A separate 2018 study that evaluated people whod undergone heart surgery found that melatonin worked better than Oxazepam when it came to improving sleep and reducing the symptoms of anxiety after surgery.
From these studies, we can conclude that melatonin may effectively reduce anxiety before and after surgery, though we dont yet know if its equally effective with other forms of anxiety such as panic attacks. More clinical studies are needed.
Does Melatonin Have Side Effects
Melatonin has relatively few side effects compared to other sleeping medications, but some people may wake up feeling dizzy, groggy, nauseous, or with a headache. In most cases, these symptoms can be alleviated by taking smaller doses or not taking melatonin at all. In rare cases, some people may experience mood swings, agitation, nightmares, fatigue, palpitations, or skin irritation when taking melatonin.
There are also some concerns about the effects of melatonin on reproductive hormones in both women and men. More research is needed on the effects of long-term melatonin use and the use of melatonin supplements while pregnant or breastfeeding. Always check with your doctor before taking melatonin, especially if you have allergies or are currently taking other medication.
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How To Get The Best Results
Light is the switch that controls when your brain makes melatonin. When you take a supplement, take care that you donât disrupt its effects with artificial light:
- Avoid your phone and other tech devices that shine brightly in the hours before bed.
- Turn off overhead lights in the evening.
- Bright light in the morning can signal itâs time to wake up.
Follow A Circadian Rhythm
Deep sleep follows a circadian pattern, also known as an internal clock. You get more deep sleep earlier in the night. When your sleep is irregular, that interferes with the timing of deep sleep. That can cause you to get less deep sleep.
Keeping a regular sleep and wake schedule can help. This includes weekends. It can also help to get some morning sunlight as soon as you wake up. Sunlight can work as a cue for your circadian system.
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Reduce Stress & Practice Gratitude
A 2007 review published in Behavioral Sleep Medicine has found that stress can decrease deep sleep, REM sleep, and sleep efficiency . It can also increase wakefulness and awakenings during the night. Decreasing your stress levels is clearly important for better sleep and deep sleep.
Practicing gratitude is one of the best ways to decrease chronic stress and improve your sleep. You cannot be stressed, sad, or angry in a state of gratitude. Upon waking, recount your blessings in your mind. Be thankful for your family, friends, a roof over your head, food on the table, your body for doing its best, and for a new day ahead.
Stop throughout the day to notice the small things and feel gratitude. You can even set your phone or stopwatch for moments of gratitude. Keep a gratitude journal and write down three things you are grateful for in the evening. Challenge yourself to pick three new things every day of the month. Make sure to feel gratitude instead of just thinking about it or writing it down.
Beyond gratitude, practicing meditation, breathwork, guided relaxation, and visualization can reduce chronic stress and help you respond to stress better. Reading scripture, journaling, positive affirmations, mindset shifts, and prayer also help to achieve more calm and relaxation. Yoga, QiGong, Tai Chi, grounding, and spending time in nature are some other great ways to reduce stress, induce relaxation and calm, and support deep sleep at night.