Still not sleeping well? Make melatonin part of your daily routine.
By Dr. Mary James, ND
Sleep is something we all took for granted when we were younger. It just seemed
to happen naturally, right? But as we move into middle age, many women spend too
many of those night hours feeling anxious, uncomfortable and wide awake.
If you suffer from insomnia and are worried about the side effects of “sleeping
pills,” here’s how you can reset your sleep cycle naturally.
Why is insomnia so common in menopause?
One key reason for sleep disturbance after age 35 involves changes in an important
hormone called melatonin. Melatonin prepares the body for sleep. As the sun goes
down, melatonin is supposed to rise, triggering a shift in our circadian rhythms
and the drowsiness that begins the sleep cycle.
Among all the other shifting hormones in perimenopause and menopause, melatonin
production can drop, leaving women awake at night, tired in the morning and unable
to concentrate during the day. This is made worse by our exposure to artificial
light, especially the blue light of all the screens many of us watch at night. Stress
hormones can also suppress melatonin production — one of the reasons that stress
interferes with sleep.
There are many other reasons for insomnia
during perimenopause and menopause. With the shifting of estrogen, progesterone,
and testosterone, many women experience vasomotor symptoms like hot flashes, night
sweats, and heart palpitations. These symptoms can suddenly wake women out of a
deep sleep during the night and make it difficult to get back to sleep.
Are you throwing off your internal calendar?
Melatonin keeps your sleep on track by signaling the time of day and time of year
to all of the cells in your body. The hormone is released by the pineal gland in
the brain, which is regulated by the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN). This
complex relay between brain and body is set off by darkness and light.
In other words, when your surroundings are dark, your SCN sends a message to your
pineal gland to release melatonin and prepare your body for sleep. But with light
— from your cell phone or computer or the streetlights in your neighborhood — this
sequence is blocked.
Low melatonin levels are also connected to many other states of health and disease,
such as cancer, fibromyalgia, depression and bone loss. So, rebalancing melatonin
can benefit your body on many levels.
Boost your melatonin naturally
You can boost your own melatonin naturally by lowering lights and shutting down
your electronic devices two hours prior to going to bed. This signals to the SCN
that it is time to release melatonin and get the body ready for sleep. During daylight
hours, try to get some exercise and expose yourself to natural sunlight by spending
time outside or near a bright window. When it’s time for sleep, make sure your bedroom
is cool, dark and free of electronics.
Unfortunately, for some women in menopause, these simple changes might not be enough.
Supplementing with melatonin: how much, and for how long?
Even if other sleep aids have failed,
melatonin supplements can be a safe and effective way to reset your sleep
cycle naturally during the menopause transition. In fact, studies show that menopausal
women treated with melatonin reported improvements in mood, depression and sleep.
I recommend taking a low dose of melatonin one to two hours before going to bed.
Very low doses (0.3-1.0 mg) are often the most effective. In 2004, MIT researchers
found that the higher-dose commercial melatonin products weren’t as effective as
lower doses for sleep disturbances. When receptors in the brain are exposed to too
much of the hormone, they tend to be less responsive.
Try a low-dose supplement of melatonin for one to two months and then take a break
to see how your sleep is. You might just need melatonin for a while to reset your
body’s sleep-wake cycle. Deep restorative sleep — the kind that came naturally in
your younger years — is still possible!
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Amstrup AK, Sikjaer T, Mosekilde L, Rejnmark L. The effect of melatonin treatment
on postural stability, muscle strength, and quality of life and sleep in postmenopausal
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