How light disrupts melatonin
Melatonin is commonly thought of as The Sleep Hormone, but this is a vast oversimplification. Melatonin isn’t necessarily responsible for inducing sleep, but it does share a crucial pattern with the circadian rhythm. Melatonin is lowest in the morning and peaks at night and is closely regulated by the light in our environment.
Did you know that light governs your melatonin levels? This is one more example of how intrinsically the human body is tied to the cycles of nature. Since humans first created fire, we’ve used it for light at night. Since we’ve been evolving with with firelight, the orange glow of firelight does not mess up our circadian rhythm.
On the other hand, artificial light from light bulbs and electronic screens is interpreted as daylight to the human body. When we are exposed to artificial light after sunset, it lowers the healthy rise of melatonin at night.
Importance of balancing melatonin
- As discussed above, melatonin plays an important role in balancing the circadian rhythm which governs our sleep patterns.
- Melatonin is a potent anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory agent (source).
- Melatonin is a powerful anti-cancer agent. Melatonin has been showed the slow the growth of cancer cells as well as cause cancer cells to self-destruct (source). The disruption in melatonin levels may be why shift working is linked to a wide array of health issues including cancer. The World Health Organization classifies shift working as a possible human carcinogen (source).
How I support healthy melatonin levels
1. I do not take melatonin supplements. Melatonin is a powerful hormone, not a sleeping pill. When we take a hormone into our body, it has the ability to not only disrupt our regulation of that specific hormone, but many other hormones. Yes, melatonin is important for sleep. But that’s were lifestyle changes are valuable. Melatonin supplements should absolutely not be dolled out like candy for sleeplessness, although there may be grey area where the supplements can be helpful for jet lag. For more details, please read my post 3 Reasons to Avoid Melatonin Supplements.
2. I wear my “melatonin glasses” at least an hour before bed, but preferably from sunset to bedtime. I first learned about amber glasses in Chris Kresser’s post, How Artificial Light is Wreaking Your Sleep. The orange tint of the glasses cancels out the blue light from both the lighting in your home and the light from electronic screens. These glasses are also excellent during the day if you suffer with eye fatigue when reading a computer screen.
There are a few options for the glasses:
- Gamma Ray Computer Glasses, shown in the above photo. They look like regular glasses with slightly tinted glass, and are passable to wear in public. As a bonus, they combat computer-induced eye fatigue. They are available here.
- Wrap-around Uvex glasses, which look pretty far-out. Not really suitable for working at a coffee shop… but they may block blue light more effectively. They are available here.
3. I keep my bedroom pitch black at night with heavy-duty blackout blinds. For optimal melatonin levels, your room should be so black that you can’t see your hand in front of your face. However, I crack my blinds three nights out of the month to correlate with the full moon, and this helps balance my menstrual cycle. This is called Lunacaption, and I explain it in this post. It’s another example of how light can manipulate our hormones!
4. I have f.lux installed on my laptop, and I use Night Shift mode on my phone. f.lux, available here, is a free program you can download and it removes the blue light from screens after sunset. The screen will look slightly orange, but it is not at all distracting.
Previously, f.lux was not easily installed on iPhones, but now there is a Night Shift mode on newer iPhone models (iPhone 5s and up). This setting, like f.lux, cancels out the stimulating blue-light from the screen.
*If you work a night shift or rotating shift, supporting healthy melatonin levels is a bit more complicated but even more crucial. Wearing melatonin glasses during the night will help keep your circadian rhythm somewhat balanced.
Sources and further reading:How artificial light is wreaking your sleep – Chris Kresser The Many Health Benefits of Melatonin – Dr. Mercola LowBlueLights.com
Do you wear melatonin glasses or take other steps to balance melatonin?