I’ve had a problem with sleep throughout most of my life. Fed up, I went to a sleep clinic a few years back. After being hooked up to an ungodly amount of wires to monitor my sleep, I was left there to spend the night. The next morning, I was told that although the nurses learned a lot about my sleeping cycle, they would need to do the tests again to figure out a treatment plan. Long story short, that didn’t help anything.
Sleep is good for you, but if you can’t sleep, that really sucks. It’s actually maddening, the fatigue lingering in the body and clouding up the mind, slowing down the brain while causing severe disorientation. The resulting irritation only creates other problems, which of course spill over into the everyday, like the unavoidable irritation that slowly evolves into misplaced anger and is then directed at someone who doesn’t deserve it, or worse, like problems at work.
I was desperate for help so I tried lots of different things: exercise, sleeping pills, meditation, relaxation, toe wiggling (something about the nerve endings in the feet), and other remedies, like the dreaded midwife recipe consisting of hot milk with butter and honey. Needless to say, all that was useless, until my mom gave me some herbal supplements with melatonin, and would you believe it, I slept!
It turns out that melatonin is magical. Well, no – not really, but it does help with regulating your sleep-wake cycle by regulating circadian rhythms. It’s a naturally occurring compound found in microbes, plants and animals. It is produced by the pineal gland, a small endocrine gland positioned in the center of the brain, but outside of the blood-brain barrier. (See Brain World’s article, The Pineal Gland: A Link to Our Third Eye.)
In humans (that is, animals), melatonin varies throughout the day. It causes drowsiness and lowers body temperature, which helps sleep to occur. Although the central nervous system is what really controls the daily sleep-wake cycle, melatonin helps – it really helps. The production of melatonin is inhibited by light hitting the retina; therefore with the onset of each evening melatonin production is triggered.
When you take melatonin a few hours before bedtime, something called the phase response curve happens. It shifts the circadian clock earlier, in effect promoting earlier sleep onset and morning wakefulness. Unfortunately natural melatonin production decreases with age making my sleeping problems worse as the years go by. And while I don’t sleep soundly every night, I am happy to say that now, I sleep now more than I have in the last few years for sure.