During a 24-hour period, each of us produces hormones that control when we go to sleep and when we wake up. This cycle is called the circadian rhythm and it is controlled by a hormone called melatonin. Produced in the pineal gland in the brain, this hormone is responsible for your body’s internal clock. When melatonin levels are high, you start to feel sleepy. But when levels are low, it can be almost impossible to fall asleep.
A great way to adjust your sleep schedule is to naturally increase your melatonin levels.
Why Can’t I Fall Asleep?
The circadian rhythm it is very sensitive to outside factors. There’s a reason why it’s nearly impossible to get out of bed on a rainy day. Or why many people experience seasonal depression during winter months. And those who work in front of a computer all day have a hard time falling asleep.
We know that two major factors naturally affect melatonin production: sunlight and stress. In the evening when the sun starts to set, melatonin production naturally rises. It continues to rise though out the night, and slowly drops when the sun comes up again.
Those who work night shifts can appreciate the connection between sunlight and sleep. Trying to go to sleep in the early hours of the morning is a daunting task. Only when their bedroom is dark enough to naturally increase melatonin production, can they fall asleep.
Melatonin isn’t the only hormone that fluctuates with our sleep and wake schedules. Cortisol, the body’s natural stress hormone, also plays a role in our internal clock. However, cortisol levels fluctuate on an opposite cycle. Production increases during the day and decreases at before bed.
However, if you have anxiety symptoms, cortisol levels remain high. This means that melatonin production cannot start until those levels begin to decrease again. These two hormones become misaligned and your sleep schedule gets thrown off.
How to Increase Your Melatonin, Naturally
If left untreated, a thrown off sleep schedule can greatly affect your quality of life. You’ll find it hard to concentrate. Your production levels at work and school will greatly decrease. A lack of sleep fuels depression and anxiety, making your current situation even worse. Insomnia also has a direct link to weight gain and other serious health issues.
Many people with low melatonin levels take melatonin supplements. Although effective, you should take these supplements in small doses for only a short period of time. They also have side effects such as daytime sleepiness, dizziness, and short-lived depression.
Luckily there are natural ways to increase your melatonin production.
For years, occupational therapists have been using weighted blankets as a therapeutic tool. Weighted blankets put pressure on the body’s sensory receptors. This added weight soothes the nervous system and regulates hormone production.
What Is a Weighted Blanket?
A weighted blanket is exactly as it sounds. A blanket with added weight. The filling is non-toxic plastic poly pellets, similar to the filling of a Beanie Baby. The weight of the blanket should be at least 10% of your body weight. But how can something as simple as a weighted blanket naturally increase your melatonin production?
The answer is Deep Pressure Therapy (DPT). Weight that is evenly spread across your body compresses the nervous system. This compression directly affects a section of the nervous system called the Autonomic Nervous System (ANS).
As a division of the nervous system, the ANS controls unconscious actions, such as breathing, digestion, and heart rate. This system can be further broken down into two sections.
The Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS) is the body’s “fight or flight” response. It releases hormones which increase blood pressure, blood sugar, and breathing. Try to remember the last time you were nervous. Maybe it was before a test or a meeting at work. How did you feel? Your heart was probably pounding. Your palms may have been sweaty and it may have been hard to think.
That was your Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS) at work.
The second section of the ANS is the Parasympathetic Nervous System (PSNS). The exact opposite of the SNS, the PSNS is dominant during peaceful, quiet times. The PSNS calms the body down by decreasing blood pressure, heart rate, and breathing.
Now try to remember how you feel when you’re taking a bath, or even before you go to sleep. Your breathing is slower. Your thoughts stop racing and you feel a sense of calm.
That is your Parasympathetic Nervous System (PSNS).
When you’re in a state of stress, your body is constantly in a “fight or flight” response. This state greatly effects your thinking, concentration, and sleep.
When Deep Pressure Therapy is applied to the body, the Autonomic Nervous System becomes balanced. The body’s “fight or flight” response decreases, while the calming PSNS is activated.
Weighted Blankets & Melatonin
But how does Deep Pressure Therapy increase your melatonin production? Researchers found that Deep Pressure Therapy increases serotonin levels by 28%, and dopamine by 31%. These “happy hormones” have a positive effect on your mood and are directly linked to melatonin production.
The brain uses serotonin to make melatonin. This means that when serotonin levels are high, melatonin levels are elevated as well. Researchers also found that deep pressure significantly decreases cortisol levels. After applying deep pressure, cortisol levels dropped by 31%.
The effects of this natural realignment are huge. Not only will this positively affect your quality of sleep, but your quality of life as well. Investing in a weighed blanket is a great way to naturally increase your melatonin levels.
By investing in a weighted blanket, you can naturally boost your melatonin levels. You can regain control of your sleep schedule, without the side effects of other sleeping aids.
If you have any questions or other ideas on how to naturally increase melatonin production, please comment below!