Sleep. The ultimate bliss. There is perhaps nothing better than slipping into a deep, restful sleep after an arduous day. If you were denied that most simple of life’s pleasures, you’d probably do anything to get it back. That’s why many people turn to melatonin pills, the readily available natural sleep aid. If you’ve been eyeing the bottle on the shelf but want more information, look no further.
The sleep hormone
Though commonly found over the counter these days, melatonin in the body occurs naturally in the brain. Release is largely dependent on natural light and, for the hormone that regulate the body’s circadian rhythm, proper timing is key. That’s why experts recommend avoiding artificial light before bedtime, especially blue light.
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Peak melatonin production occurs at the onset of darkness. At one point in human evolution, that meant sunset; these days, every room of the house is lit up and, even when we think we’re trying to sleep, the glows of our phones and our Kindles continue to cripple melatonin release. Here, blue light is twice as harmful, suppressing melatonin secretion two times longer and setting the circadian rhythm back twice as long as green light— 3 hours vs. 1.5 hours per 6.5 hours exposure, Harvard researchers found.
For some insomniacs, the problem might be as easy as dimming the lights. Typical room light shortens melatonin duration and inhibits melatonin release much moreso than dim light, leading to a later bedtime. A blue light filter for electronics can help, too. The blue light discrepancy extends to room lighting as well; while certainly more energy efficient, LED and fluorescent lightbulbs’ cool radiance aren’t doing anyone favors on their most restless nights.