Melatonin and the sleep cycle

If you have ever come home from a crazy shift, and finally crashed into bed… Only to find you are so alert, wired and unable to sleep... Getting to know your circadian rhythm and implementing some “hacks” may help you get more better quality shut eye.   

It’s all about timing.  

The Circadian Rhythm is the body’s natural cycle of wakefulness and sleep. It’s set and adjusted by the “Biological Clocks” which themselves are tuned by internal and external cues, the most dominant being the presence of light. Controlled by one “Master Clock” located in the Hypothalamus in the brain, which interacts directly with our eyes, determining how much light is present. When there is sufficient darkness, the brain begins readying the body for sleep by producing Melatonin. Which is naturally elevated during darkness, enabling and promoting the mind and body to sleep.

Because sunlight cues the body into wakefulness, attempting to sleep during the day often results in fewer hours of poorer quality sleep. The misalignment of external cues (like sunlight) with certain behavior (trying to sleep), confuses the body’s internal clock leading to fatigue, sleep deficits and genuine disruptions to the circadian rhythm. On night shift, the sleep-readiness process still begins at night, and at a time that requires high levels of attention, expertise and decision making. Melatonin reduces alertness and slows down the speed of our reactions. This can impact not only the health and well-being of staff, but potentially our patients as well.

Use light and melatonin for peak performance.

The body clock can readjust over time, and there are also ways to help it along to ensure health, happiness and peak performance. A simple and effective way is by supplementing that ‘good-night’ hormone, Melatonin. When difficulties arise like wakefulness during the night after being on night shift, and attempting to revert a circadian rhythm back to normal day light hours, supplementing with melatonin may assist. According to The National Sleep Foundation, a typical dose of 1-3 mg taken 30-60 minutes before bed can help ready the body for sleep and reduce the time it takes to fall into slumber.

Use (and block) the presence of Natural light.

Strategies like going outside in the day light and getting direct sun on your forehead when you wake helps the circadian rhythm. If it is dark when you wake, a light box is a great strategy. Also the use of “blue light blocking glasses” used an hour before bed, sleeping with an eye mask, having super dark curtains can also help the quality of your sleep cycle. This all adds up to more hours of better-quality sleep. Melatonin is available in various forms and can vary in dosage, so for optimal results consult a GP.

By Tegan Twentyman in collaboration with Amy Benn.


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