Produced naturally by your body by the pineal gland, melatonin is a hormone that helps to regulate your sleep cycles. It is affected by light exposure: at night when it is dark, your body releases increased melatonin to help promote sleep.
It doesn’t take much to throw your circadian rhythm (your body’s internal sleep clock) completely off balance. Unfortunately, once you’ve done that, it can take quite a while to get your rhythm back so you can get a good night’s sleep once again. The really strange news, however, is that your alarm clock may even be one of the culprits keeping you up nights.
What you eat before bed can have a profound impact on your ability to fall asleep and stay asleep at night. The key is to find foods that help you sleep and healthy bedtime snacks that will not prevent you from getting the sleep you need. Some foods, and portion sizes, interfere with your ability to fall asleep at night. You’ve probably been told not to eat large snacks filled with fried, fatty food right before going to bed. But, what is good to eat?
Most people envision pampered debutantes when they think of sleep masks. The truth of the matter is that the people who need them most are often hard working people just like you. No one will argue the necessity or benefits of a good night’s sleep. It’s important to your overall health and well-being. However, many people around the world struggle to get the very sleep they need. A sleep mask can provide a great deal of help in that regard.
Just as our hair will likely turn grey and wrinkles will probably adorn our faces, as we age many of us can expect to encounter sleep changes.
These sleep and aging changes can result in waking up throughout the night, becoming sleepy earlier, and awakening earlier than we used to.
Sleep and Aging Statistics
As many as 50 percent of seniors experience some sort of sleep disturbance as they embark on their golden years. And according to the National Institute of Aging, a good number of seniors are not getting enough sleep. One of the reasons that many seniors are sleep deprived is in their trouble in falling asleep. More than a third of women and 13 percent of men reported taking more than an half an hour (30 minutes) to fall asleep (sleep latency), according to a study the institute cited.
You’ve probably heard people who work late night shifts in hospitals, fire stations, restaurants, or on the road protecting our streets talk about how light during the day has a negative impact on their ability to get a decent amount of restful sleep. But, did you know there is a real reason behind it? It’s not merely a preference for darkness that’s robbing them of the recuperative sleep they need in order to wake up refreshed and ready to face the day. But why does light have such a profound impact on sleep and what can people who work these necessary late shifts do to get the kind of sleep they need?
Why Does Light Negatively Impact Sleep?
“In the presence of light, your brain will not produce melatonin,” says Dr. Michael Breus, PhD, Sleep Specialist: On the surface that doesn’t seem like such a profoundly negative thing. However, melatonin is one of the vital hormones that plays a significant role in helping people not only fall asleep but also to remain asleep throughout the night. If a room has too much light, that makes things much more difficult for anyone looking to get a proper amount of sleep.
I live in New York and right now, the days are abysmally short. It starts getting dark around 4 PM, and that’s about when I start feeling blue. It’s hard to stay upbeat when the weather is so cold and so much of your life is spent under artificial lights. I can only imagine what it must be like in Alaska! Seasonal Affective Disorder runs rampant through the population during the northeast’s winter. In some people, it’s a mild feeling of dysphoria, just feeling down in the dumps. This is called sub-clinical SAD. In others, it’s a full-blown depression—the kind where you can’t get out of bed and can’t find pleasure in normal everyday activities. Severe SAD can be debilitating. Of course, like with most emotional disorders, sleep plays an important role—perhaps more than most in this case, since daylight is so closely linked to circadian rhythms. There’s a spring/summer version of SAD too, characterized by anxiety and restlessness, but we’ll be focusing on the winter variety here.
Human beings are built to respond to the natural light and dark cycle of the day. It makes sense that we would have evolved this way. After all, unlike cats, our eyes aren’t equipped to see very well in the dark. So, we had to do our hunting in the daytime and, the earlier we started looking for food, the more food we’d find before the day was over. As a consequence, our brains are more alert during daytime hours. As the sun sets, we start to slow down. Even if you consider yourself a night person, your productivity still wanes with the loss of daylight. Of course, nowadays we are surrounded by artificial light. It makes sense that this light might wreak some havoc on our sleep/wake patterns.
It’s another Wednesday morning, while you struggle to wake up, you suffer through it and manage to get into the shower, make breakfast and put the coffee on before everyone else wakes up. You look at the clock and realize there’s only 15 minutes before it’s time for the kids to go to school. Your seven-year-old is ready to go but you notice your teenage child’s light isn’t even on yet. You gently open the door and realize they still haven’t stirred from bed, even though their alarm is going off in a constant pattern. No matter how gently or forcefully you try to get them out of their latex mattress, nothing seems to work. Have you ever wondered how much sleep your teenager actually needs?