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  • Writer's pictureMark Hill

Seven Sleep Spoilers. Spoiler 1: "Melatonin Suppressors"

I am a Cognitive Behavioural Therapist; I work with clients that experience common psychological difficulties such as Depression, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Post-traumatic Stress Disorder etc. I have practiced as a therapist for over 10 years and the most common problem reported by clients is poor sleep, whether trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, or early waking. Over the next few months I’m going to outline common activities or pitfalls poor sleepers engage in/fall into and give you some tips for overcoming these. I must stress, however, that where poor sleep is a secondary issue or a bi-product of another more significant problem that you consider seeking help for the primary difficulty, for example Post-traumatic Stress or Depression.

Spoiler 1 – “Melatonin Suppressors”

Spoiler 2 – trying to get an early night

Spoiler 3 – Putting up with a poor sleep environment

Spoiler 4 – skipping exercise & neglecting a winddown time

Spoiler 5 - Staying in bed when you can’t sleep

Spoiler 6 – “Catching up” with sleep (lying in)

Spoiler 7 – I must have 8 hours of sleep!

Spoiler 1: “Melatonin Suppressors”

Right, let’s begin with a little (basic) science, the pineal gland (a tiny gland in your brain) releases the hormone melatonin, which helps to let your body know when it’s time for sleep. Normally more is created at night, so if this is not the case and little is produced at night, falling asleep and staying asleep can be difficult.

In the past our bodies had an easier time regulating melatonin levels, they reduced during the day and increased when the sunset. However, the digital age has heavily impacted this, thanks to the plethora of false lights and electronic devices that supress the secretion of melatonin (aka “melatonin suppressors”), which we have access to post sunset.

So, what are some of these “melatonin suppressors”, some include:

· I-pads (other melatonin supressing tablets are available)

· Smart phones

· TVs

· Laptops

· Computers

(lots of fun items, I’m afraid)

Why is this?

These devices use high levels of “blue light”, which tricks the brain and our little pineal gland into thinking that it’s still day time, so the impact of the sunset is nullified and insufficient levels of melatonin are released, so we don’t feel sleepy and struggle to drop off. Additionally, the material we view on these devices tends to be stimulating rather than relaxing e.g. an intense video game or scary horror movie, are not particularly conducive to winding down and falling asleep.

What can you do?

Throw them all away… now! Obviously an unrealistic (though effective) solution. I’d recommend limiting the use of the above “melatonin suppressors” in the evening/night or having a sensible cut-off period perhaps a couple of hours before bed. Rather than spending those “couple of hours” sat in silence, twiddling your thumbs or pondering this sleep blog other relaxing activities may help you to wind down: guided relaxation, reading (I know what you’re thinking, but don’t worry most kindles do not use blue light – presumably for this very reason), or yogalates (I’ve no idea what this actually is, I just liked the word). Ultimately, you are best placed to make this decision, as you know what activity you are likely to engage in, find relaxing and stick to. Alternatively, if you cannot do without your devices at night, why not explore some of the blue-light filter options such as glasses and software, but be warned this will not be conducive to a relaxing winddown period prior to bedtime (I’ll discuss this further in spoiler 4).

Also, drink a warm milky (caffeine free) drink, as this contains melatonin, albeit a very small amount, it can’t hurt and is kinder to our sleepy abilities than its cousins: coffee and tea. There are a number of other natural sources of melatonin that you can explore too.

So, get cracking and increase your evening/nightly melatonin levels! This first blog was brought to you with a splash of irony, as it was written on my naughty “melatonin suppressing” laptop at 9:30 at night, tut tut!

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