There's a reason melatonin is on many doctor's must-have anti-aging list and touted by celebrities like Suzanne Somers for its powerful ability to encourage sleep and slow aging.
While melatonin is produced during deep sleep, its benefits are not reserved to the midnight hours, however. From reducing PMS and migraines to slimming waistlines and boosting thyroid, this little magic pill does more than just put the 'beauty' back in sleep.
More melatonin, less PMS: If your monthly PMS symptoms have you pulling out your hair (or send your partner running for the hills) you may want to look at your sleep habits. A new study by Douglas Mental Health University Institute researchers has shown that low melatonin levels play a role in premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD), or good old fashioned PMS. This doesn't, however, just affect one week in the month. Compared to their counterparts, PMDD sufferers had a further reduction in melatonin levels during their symptomatic luteal phase (the second half of their menstrual cycle when progesterone is at its highest). If this sounds familiar, try taking melatonin on days 12-28 of your cycle (with day one being the first day of bleeding) to see if takes the edge off your mood, and provides a restful slumber back into your nights.
Age in reverse: If you didn't worry about it in your first 30 years, you will in the next 30...aging. More specifically, how to look, feel and even live younger. The great news is melatonin has been shown to slow down the aging process. A research team in Paris found melatonin-based treatment can delay the first signs of aging in small mammals by at least three months (considering the animal lives just to 12 months, this is quite substantial!). While it may not get you carded while buying your favourite bottle of red wine, it will keep people thinking there are substantially less candles on your birthday cake.
Keep your belt a little tighter: We all know that the morning after a poor night's sleep can leave you veering from your diet and craving high-sugar foods. Well, low melatonin levels are actually a risk factor for diabetes (PMS, and now diabetes? It's true). Melatonin receptors have been found in many tissues of the body, including the pancreas which produces insulin (the fat-storing hormone). According to the Nurses' Health Study, participants with the lowest melatonin levels faced two times the risk of developing diabetes, compared with those with the highest levels. It certainly poses the question: does pre-diabetes begin with insomnia? I feel I can safely say, yes.
In a separate study, University of Granada researchers found that melatonin can even control weight gain without reducing food intake showing that sleep is indeed a required weight loss remedy.
Manage your migraines: My bet is that if you suffer from migraines, you would likely try anything to put an end to the discomfort and get a good night's sleep. Low levels of melatonin have been linked to a variety of headache types and have been shown to alleviate the pain. Results from one study, presented at the American Academy of Neurology's 65th annual meeting showed that, "Three mg of melatonin was more effective than the placebo and had efficacy similar to that of 25 mg of amitriptyline, a common sleep aid and antidepressant. Furthermore, it was better tolerated than amitriptyline, with lower rates of daytime sleepiness and no weight gain."
Supporting research published in Neurology, found that two thirds of patients taking 3 mg of melatonin nightly experienced a 50 per cent reduction of headaches per month. Additionally, the intensity and duration of headaches decreased. Adding this to the arsenal of migraine prevention techniques such as magnesium supplementation or a gluten-free diet may be your ticket to living headache-free.
Wake up a sluggish thyroid: As we age, night levels of melatonin also decline and with it comes an overall decrease in quality and quantity of sleep -- not to mention a reduction in many hormones and thyroid, your metabolic master -- is one of them. Researchers from the Menopause Center in Italy found that among peri-menopausal and menopausal women ages 42-62, administering 3 mg of melatonin at bedtime caused most of the women to report a general improvement of mood and a reduction in symptoms of depression, and highly significant improvement of thyroid function. This makes melatonin another powerful tool in the fight against the dreaded belly fat of menopause.
Soothing music before bedtime can really do the trick. A 2005 study found that older people who listened to 45 minutes of soft tunes before hitting the hay reported a 35 percent improvement in their sleep problems. But it doesn't have to be Brahms, if that's not your style. As long as the music was soft and slow -- around 60 to 80 beats per minute -- it can spur physical changes known to promote sleep, like a slower heart rate and breathing, the BBC reported. "We know that when a person closes their eyes they induce a certain frequency of brain waves," says Decker. Slow music may have a similar effect, he surmises, leading to sleep onset. Flickr photo by Llima
It was once thought that a glass of warm milk at bedtime would help send you off to dreamland because of the tryptophan, The New York Times reported, but milk and other protein-rich foods actually block tryptophan's sleepiness-inducing effects. However, there might still be a psychological benefit to that warm milk, the Times concluded, calling it "as soothing as a favorite old blanket." "There have been some studies showing that when infants receive warm milk before bed, they'll dream a little bit more," says Decker, but the results don't hold true in adults. "It may be one of those myths that because it happens in children, adults think it may be true for them, too," he explains. However, many adults are actually at least slightly lactose intolerant, he says, meaning a warm mlik at bedtime may just lead to discomfort. Flickr photo by julianrod
If your goal is to bore yourself to sleep, you might try counting sheep, or counting backwards by multiples of three or any of a number of other counting-related mind-numbers. But a 2002 study found that imagining a more relaxing scene might be more effective. The study observed 41 people with insomnia over a number of nights and asked them to try a variety of different sleep-inducing techniques, like counting sheep. On the nights they were told to imagine relaxing scenes like a beach, a massage or a walk in the woods, they fell asleep an average of 20 minutes sooner than on the nights they were told to count sheep or were given no instructions, Mental Floss reported. Decker agrees. "Counting sheep in and of itself may not help," but can act as a ritual that prepares us for sleep, making it not unlike meditation. Counting sheep -- or more relaxing guided imagery -- helps us "focus on something other than life's stressors," he says. "Thinking about a soothing environment may be more restful than the way you spent the last eight hours!" Flickr photo by Kr. B.
Focusing on the breath, whether it's as part of a pre-bed yoga sequence or just a tuned-in awareness, can also have meditation-like effects in preparing for bed, says Decker, like lowering the heart rate. Flickr photo by Perfecto Insecto
Your body temp dips about two hours before bedtime, Health magazine reported, a natural change that "triggers our brain for sleep onset", says Decker. Soaking in a warm bath beforehand boosts your temperature temporarily, but results in a dramatic, rapid cooldown after you get out that relaxes you and eases you into sleep. It's not necessarily the bath that lulls you to sleep, it's that resulting cooling of your body temperature, Decker emphasizes. Research shows that people who take a warm bath before bed not only fall asleep more quickly, but also report better quality of sleep, he says.
Many people swear by a drink to unwind at the end of the day, but alcohol before bed can actually disrupt your sleep. You'll be more likely to wake up more often in the early-morning hours, wake up and not be to fall back to sleep or have disturbing dreams. "As alcohol is metabolized by the liver, it has a disruptive effect," says Decker. It takes a few hours to metabolize, he says, so a drink with dinner shouldn't be a problem, but anything too close to bedtime can be counterproductive. Flickr photo by Rob Qld
It sounds crazy -- how will you ever get to sleep if you're not even in bed?! -- but it works, says Decker. "When a person stays in bed and they can't sleep, the bedroom can induce a certain level of anxiety," he says. "We say after 15 or 20 minutes, get out of bed, sit in another part of the house until you feel a little groggy, then go back to sleep," he says. "Staying in bed can condition you to become anxious in bed." A small 2011 study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine found that among the adults studied who reported trouble sleeping, those who spent less time in bed had better sleeping habits. Flickr photo by Perfecto Insecto
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