Touted as a quick fix for everything from insomnia to low sex drive, melatonin has fast become one of the biggest-selling nutritional supplements in U.S. history. For some individuals, however, the problem is not having too little melatonin, but too much. As a result, many people may be overdosing on this hormone and experiencing daytime “stupors.”
Read on to learn an “eye-opening” way to brighten your days and lower your melatonin production.
Melatonin and Daylight
Melatonin is a natural hormone produced by the pineal gland, a pea-sized gland located in the center of the brain. Melatonin synthesis is governed by circadian rhythms, the daily cycles of light and darkness to which each of us is exposed. During exposure to sunshine or another bright light, the pineal gland stops making melatonin – which makes you alert.
In dim light or darkness in the evening, melatonin production soars. That’s why we tend to get sleepy at night. The problem is that for many individuals, this melatonin production cycle has been disrupted, because so much of our time is spent indoors, under artificial light.
If you’re not exposed to enough bright light every day, circadian rhythms may fall out of whack. This phenomenon is called circadian rhythm desynchronization. Circadian desynchronization can also be caused by taking melatonin supplements, by jet lag or by working odd hours.
Heart disease is twice as prevalent among night-shift workers as among those who work a normal 9-to-5 shift. In addition to heart disease, circadian disruption has been linked to insomnia and other sleep disturbances, gastrointestinal problems, persistent drowsiness or fatigue, poor job performance and menstrual irregularities.
Light deprivation is also associated with a serious form of depression called seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Psychiatrists now believe that SAD affects 10 million Americans (particularly during fall and winter, when time spent outdoors is at a minimum).
Another 25 million are thought to have a milder version of SAD called SSAD. There have been hints that light deprivation may also be a factor in other disorders. Breast cancer, for example, is far less prevalent near the equator – where the sun is brightest – than it is farther north or south. Breast cancer also rates in the northern U.S. are up to twice as high as rates in the South.
The Modern Lifestyle
Since the invention of the electric light, or artificial light (and our tendency to spend more time indoors), humans are making more melatonin (and thus, feeling sleepier and more fatigued throughout the day). Artificial lighting just doesn’t stimulate the pineal gland enough to stop the production of melatonin. In order to stay alert and stop the production of melatonin, the body needs about 2,500 lux. Your average indoor lighting ranges from only 100 to 800 lux – while the sunlight can provide up to 100,000 lux.
Light Therapy Solutions
The Natural Solution – You should be worried about light deprivation only if you find yourself feeling run down, moody, drowsy or sleepy during the day. The simple solution is to get more natural sunlight. Aim to go outside for at least 15 minutes every day, and don’t forget your sunscreen. If you have to work indoors a lot, sit near a window in a well-lit room.
Bright Light Treatment – You can also remedy light deprivation by exposing yourself everyday for at least 30 minutes to special artificial light – which is brighter than typical indoor lighting. Sources of special artificial light sufficient to stop melatonin production during the day include light boxes, overhead workstations, light visors, and dawn simulators.