Lights Out – Treat Insomnia Naturally

Insomnia is the bane of modern society. Since the introduction of the electric light over one hundred years ago, nearly half of the world is lit up at night. Artificial light disturbs natural circadian rhythms. The pineal gland produces the sleep hormone-melatonin-only in the dark. Without adequate melatonin production, sleep is disturbed, hormones become imbalanced, and the ability to fight dis-ease is diminished.

The pineal gland, located in the center of the brain, is associated with the crown chakra. Light energy affects pineal production of melatonin. Cells located in our skin called chromocytes carry light wave information to the pineal gland. At dawn, the daylight is a blue wave which stimulates chromocytes to turn off the pineal gland. At dusk, the pink light of sunset blocks the blue rays and the pineal gland begins producing melatonin.

Melatonin production peaks about three hours after dark and lasts eight to nine hours in adults, longer in children. At dawn, the drop o f melatonin arouses the hypothalamus. Located deep in the brain at the level of the sixth chakra, the hypothalamus controls all vital body functions including temperature, weight, libido, hormones, stress response, the immune system and directs the cascade of amino acids that form neurotransmitters. The hypothalamus is truly the maestro of the body’s biochemical orchestra.

Once the hypothalamus wakes up, it needs glucose, so it stimulates the adrenal glands to produce cortisol which releases stored sugar. Cortisol stimulates the production of dopamine which is the neurotransmitter of alertness, memory and learning. Dopamine follows natural cortisol rhythms, remaining elevated until mid afternoon. Schools capitalize on the natural circadian rhythm of the learning hormone by teaching children from 8am to 3pm. The late afternoon slump that makes many of us reach for sugar and caffeine is a reflection of this natural drop in cortisol and dopamine.

Another extremely important nocturnal hormone is calle d prolactin. Released by the pituitary gland, prolactin is very high in pregnant and nursing mothers, thus it’s name refers to promoting lactation. Produced by all ages and both genders, prolactin stimulates the thymus to strengthen the natural killer cells that keep our bodies free of foreign invaders and cancer. Without sleep, we are prone to disease as our immune systems weaken. Prolactin rises three hours after melatonin and is turned off by dopamine.

In the morning, melatonin cascades into serotonin. A calming hormone, serotonin controls our impulses. And the more serotonin made during the day the more melatonin at night.

Create a natural circadian rhythm by rising with the sun and exercise moderately, early in the day. Exercise promotes cortisol production thus increasing dopamine the active daytime hormones. Released in response to both physical and emotional stressors, cortisol gears our bodies for flight away from potential danger. Dopamine and cortisol can prevent the cascade of serot onin back into melatonin in the evening so beware of exercising within a few hours of bedtime.

Insomnia is often at the root of many dis-eases. Cancer, obesity, immune dysfunction, hormonal imbalances, diabetes, even heart disease have all been associated with sleep disorders. Although sleep medications are available as temporary relief, they do not promote normal nocturnal hormone production.

There are many natural remedies for insomnia.

  • Don’t miss the sunset. Remember the pink light of dusk induces melatonin production. Don’t watch television or work on the computer after dark. The blue light from these screens acts like dawn and shuts down melatonin production.
  • If you must expose yourself to blue light wear pink tinted glasses while watching television or doing computer work at night.
  • Try eating tryptophan enriched foods in the evening. Tryptophan is the amino acid needed to convert serotonin into melatonin.
  • Sleep inducing foods include: whole grains, nut butter s, bananas, grapefruit, dates, figs, yogurt, turkey and tuna. Heavy protein foods are not recommended before retiring for the night.
  • Be sure to sleep in complete darkness.
  • A cool, very dark room helps the pineal gland produce melatonin.
  • Deepen sleep with soothing sound like water or other night sounds.
  • In the morning, help melatonin to cascade into serotonin by eating complex carbs and getting at least 20 minutes of sun exposure.
  • Exercise moderately about 30 minutes of aerobic activity early in the day.

A full understanding of our hormonal circadian rhythms is crucial to wellness.

Deborah-Maragopoulos_106468Sweet Dreams…

Deborah Maragopoulos MN APRN, BC FNP is a holistic family nurse practitioner, author of LoveDance: Awakening the Divine Daughter, founder of DMAR Pyramid of Health™, and creator of Genesis Gold®.

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