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?
wonderful and insightful article! Can one come back to a normal and natural melatonin level after taking melatonin supplements for an extended period of time?
Does anyone know if you can you purchase an orange cloth or some type of material to throw over your bedside lamps? Would this work to generate orange light in your bedroom?
I have to shake my head at this article. Sunlight governs sera- and melatonin. There’s such a jump in claiming that artificial light is automatically interpreted as sunlight by the body. What you keep describing is too flaky and is more commonly seen in psychological behavior, not physical science. I highly suggest reading this article about the argument of blue light. http://www.aao.org/publications/eyenet/201103/cataract.cfm
It doesn’t feel like you’ve done proper research with peer-reviewed sources. Slapping on a disclaimer about not being FDA approved in your articles isn’t enough. If you’re going to blog with a sense of authority, please look at all the facts before expressing your claims as fact.
So your brain tells your body what to do, sending messages to your body and the body responds to these messages. Now if brain is convinced that blue light is sunlight, (brain being physical) then it will send messages to your body that it is day time. After a few times of this in your mind, ( mind, or thoughts being psychological) you might think you can’t go to sleep unless the tv is on, or you need to use another device before you can sleep. Phsycology and physical go hand in hand. When a woman gets physically ill during certain time of pregnancy it can cause their child to have schizophrenia. I learned about that in high school phsycology, not biology. I did not go to college nor am I a doctor. Feel free to pick my comment apart, other opinions is how we learn. If it make me use my brain to think then my mind expand helping to learn. Correct?
You have so many spelling and grammar errors. It annoyed me, but other than that great facts. I learned a lot.
I took melatonin-3 mg for 3 months (2-3 times each week) and my heart started beating fast. so I stopped taking them. It’s been 4-5 weeks since I stopped taking them and the condition doesn’t seem to improve. What can I do?
I wear a black out mask at night (or even if the daytime if I should need to rest) and I do not get into the bed without it. I can tell a difference within 5 minutes of having it on. I use the Bucky Masks because they fit me better and really black out light. I just order them on Ebay or direct from Bucky. Not a salesperson for Bucky, but I have tried others and they were not as good of a fit and blacking out the light plus comfort. I really love this websight and thank you for your great information. Blessings!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Excellent post! I do nearly everything on your list as well. One thing to add: I’ve recently switched from wearing orange glasses to using single-color amber (orange) LED lamps at night. I review a couple of them on my blog here: http://www.lighttherapyreviews.net/ambersleeplamps/
In particular, http://lowbluelights.com and http://SomniLight.com both offer single color amber LED reading lights. Based on my research, single-color LEDs create a very narrow band of light (without any blue), obviating the need for orange glasses in most cases.
Anyway, I find it easier!
Nature knows best so we should trust her. Our society has ignored her wisdom and made our own light and time, I really believe that is why we have sleep issues. And I definitely agree, do not alter/”try and fix ” your body’s natural hormone rhythm, take time and figure out healthy alternatives to the problem. I am an insomniac and have tried melatonin, it did make me groggy and nausea the day after. I gave it a few tries to make sure I wasn’t just having an off day and I had the same reaction each time. Dark room, no tv an hour before bed, a warm, not hot shower an hour before bed time, a banana and a glass of water seem to help me. ????????????
Hi Lauren .
Great site – love the f.lux (just downloaded it) and hope it helps me. I tend to do work at night. I will have to abandon my photo editing at night, however! 🙂
Anyhow – I was searching about melatonin supplements before using them when I found your site. I will give all this a try first. I don’t have trouble sleeping at all, I just have trouble winding down before sleeping. I am excited to try these suggestions. 🙂
Thanks for the site and the hard work.
Hi, I am considering buying glasses for when on computer. Uvex glasses or Gamma Ray Computer Glasses? Which are better in your opinion.