Sleep and sleep dysfunction involve two hormones – Cortisol and Melatonin. They are the two hormones that regulate the body’s circadian rhythm. Melatonin is conversely related to Cortisol (the stress hormone). It peaks at night when Cortisol is low and is lowest upon waking when Cortisol is at its highest to provide you with the energy you need to face the day. Dysregulation of these hormones can cause sleep dysfunction.
How Sunlight Affects Sleep
Melatonin is first activated by sunlight entering the eye’s retinal receptors and is produced by the Pineal gland in your brain. This activity converts amino acids into Tryptophan, which is then converted to serotonin (the happy neurotransmitter) and at night, Serotonin is converted to Melatonin. The body has an internal clock called the Suprachiasmatic Nucleus, which attracts Melatonin and subsequently signals the body to prepare for sleep.
How Stress Affects Sleep
Stress, whether real or perceived, can cause dysregulation of both Cortisol and Melatonin, resulting in sleep problems such as insomnia, waking in the middle of the night, trouble falling asleep, unrefreshed sleep, fatigue, anxiety and Sympathetic Nervous System dominance (more and continued stress). This, in turn, will affect almost every other body system (gut, immune, reproductive, nervous system, blood pressure, blood sugar dysregulation, brain function, etc.).
What You Can Do
To remedy this problem, you can:
- Start by getting some morning sunlight on your face. The morning sun between sunrise and 10 am is best and don’t wear sunglasses at this time.
- Get some regular exercise (it doesn’t have to be strenuous, walking is fine).
- Eat Tryptophan-rich foods such as salmon, chicken, turkey, eggs, spinach and nuts, to name a few. Most importantly, set a regular bedtime routine and maintain it; even if it doesn’t work at first, keep it going.
- Abstain from blue light exposure from TV, phones, computer screens for at least an hour before bed (read a book). Go to bed at the same time every night, no later than 10 pm and investigate guided meditations to help you relax. Find these online at Insight Timer or Headspace and other sites.
There are some wonderful Naturopathic herbs that can improve the quality and duration of sleep and help reduce stress and nutrients to support the biological pathways involved.