Posted on by Rob Brown, MD
This week, as I’ve listened to newscasters talk about how the flu is taking over America, it struck me that people are getting sick, in part, because they are deficient in melatonin.
Vitamin D and melatonin have something in common. They both strengthen the body’s immune system. Their relative production in the different seasons should complement each other perfectly. But, in our world of technology, they are out of sync. Cancer and all sorts of other diseases can develop if an immune system doesn’t function properly. In this post, you are going to gain an appreciation for melatonin and learn what you can do to normalize your brain’s production of this important hormone.
If you live in the Northern Hemisphere, it is wintertime for you now. People all over are getting sick. The news is filled with reports of how bad the flu is this year. Unless you are supplementing with vitamin D, your vitamin D levels have likely dropped because the sun is lower in the sky and days are short.
We know that low vitamin D levels are associated with decreased immune function. But why would mother nature do this to us? Why are we all put at risk for getting sick during the winter? Although days are short, it is equally important that nights are much longer.
Your body’s natural response during periods of prolonged darkness, as occurs in the wintertime, is to produce more melatonin, a hormone produced by the brain’s pineal gland. This gland receives information directly from the eyes and can therefore sense whether it is dark or light out. In the absence of light, the pineal gland secretes melatonin, which has many crucial beneficial health effects on your body, one of which is to strengthen the immune system.
So in the summertime, your immune system is enhanced by sunlight and vitamin D, while in the wintertime, your immune system should be enhanced by darkness and melatonin.
If this is true, why are so many people getting sick in the wintertime?
Maybe one reason has to do with a mass deficiency in melatonin production. But what do so many of us have in common that we don’t secrete enough melatonin?
6 Simple Tips to Help Optimize Melatonin Production
Melatonin production should be cyclic, off during the day and on at night. Expose yourself to sunlight or at least full-spectrum light during the day so your brain knows when it is daytime.
Pick a bedtime and stick with it. When the body gets into the habit of going to sleep at a certain time, it will naturally want to drift off when that time arrives each day or night. Let yourself go to bed when it wants to.
3. Turn off LEDs
Before going to bed, refrain from looking at all LED screens, including cell phones, laptops, tablets and TVs. Looking at an LED screen before going to sleep significantly reduces the amount of melatonin your brain produces at night. This light effect is even more potent for children than adults, so make sure your kids turn off their devices at least a half hour before bedtime.
4. Sleep in the dark
Feng shui masters consider having electronics in the bedroom to be inauspicious. They are wise. When you turn out the lights to sleep, there should be NO ambient light. If you have electronics in your bedroom, unplug each device that has an indicator light. Alternatively, you can shield each light source with a piece of countertop decor. Understand that if you can see any light with your eyes open, your pineal gland will more than likely see the light even when your eyes are closed.
5. Bedtime habits
If you are used to falling asleep in front of the TV, try to change your habit. If you need some ambient sound to relax, read before bed (not from a tablet). Play music or listen to something previously downloaded to your device. If you feel you absolutely must have the TV on to fall asleep, at least put it on a timer so it will shut off after you typically fall asleep.
6. No EMFs
Electromagnetic frequencies (EMF) trick the pineal gland into thinking that there is ambient light. EMF exposure during sleep will cause your brain to produce less melatonin. If you use your cell phone as an alarm, put it on airplane mode to ensure it doesn’t ping you with EMF periodically while you are sleeping. And importantly, please, don’t put a cordless phone or your wifi router anywhere near your bedroom. If you must because of the design of your living space, either unplug the units or place them both on a timer so that they turn off when you go to sleep and click back on when you are scheduled to wake up.
Ideally, we would be able to wait for the sunrise to wake up. But, since many of us have to work in the early morning, some methods of waking up are better than others. Like many people, I’ve gone through an evolution of alarm clocks starting with a freestanding windup clock with the bells on top. From there, I moved to a plug-in timer with hands and a buzzer. Then, I got my first digital clock radio, which had been my preferred method for awakening each morning for many years.
Recently, I purchased a daylighting alarm clock. I am in awe over this technology; 30 minutes prior to my scheduled wake-up time, the clock begins to glow a reddish hue, which slowly brightens to a white light. It is relaxing, pleasing and so completely natural. At the designated time, the clock will produce some type of sound, either an ambient sound of crashing waves, sea gulls or a radio station.
Humanized Health - NEW!
Learn about personalized health from top experts! Check out our fascinating new shows every week, available as videos, podcasts and transcripts.:
Paula is a highly qualified and experienced nutrition counselor on the staff at Village Green.
Margo's impressive knowledge base is the result of a unique blend of educational and professional experience.
Dr. Neal Barnard
Dr. Barnard leads programs advocating for preventive medicine, good nutrition, and higher ethical standards in research.
Dr. Joseph Pizzorno
Dr. Joseph Pizzorno, ND is a pioneer of integrative medicine and a leading authority on science-based natural medicine.
Debi is a registered dietitian with a master’s degree in nutrition, a personal trainer, and whole health coach.
Teri is a is a Certified Coach Practitioner with extensive certifications and experience in holistic medicinal practices.
Dr. Rav Ivker
Dr. Rav Ivker is a holistic family physician, health educator, and best-selling author.
Susan writes about the connection between plant-based diets and a reduced risk of chronic diseases.
Dr. Rob Brown
Dr. Brown's blended perspective of healthcare includes a deeply rooted passion for wellness and spiritual exploration.