If you've had trouble sleeping for a while, you've probably studied different methods to find the sleep which we so badly need . One of the fashionable solutions is melatonin, but its use is not without danger. Let's see why and discover together the possible alternatives.
In this article
- What is melatonin
- Why look for an alternative
- The alternatives
What is melatonin
Melatonin is a hormone that your brain produces in response to darkness. It is made by the pineal gland, a pea-sized gland located just above the middle of your brain.
It helps your body know when it's time to sleep and when to wake up. Basically, it contributes to the synchronization of your internal clock (24-hour circadian rhythm) and therefore to your sleep.
Normally, the body produces more melatonin at night. Levels usually begin to rise in the evening once the sun has set. They drop in the morning when the sun rises.
If melatonin has a positive effect on sleep, then why not use it as a supplement?
Why be wary with melatonin supplements
Research suggests that melatonin plays other important roles in the body beyond sleep:
- cardiovascular system
- immune system
- anti-cancer properties
- bone density
- functioning of the gonads...
These effects are not fully understood.
So you have to be careful because taking supplements could have an impact on these functions in addition to your sleep.
Just on the effect on sleep, it is very difficult to determine a correct dose. When you take melatonin supplements on a regular basis, the amount swallowed is the same each time, while your body, when functioning naturally, secretes melatonin in different ways depending on the season. You risk creating disturbances even more important in the long term.
When you take these supplements you obviously change the total melatonin in your body but you also change the rate at which your body receives melatonin over the course of the year and its usual 365 day rate.
What is quite crazy is that this is one of the rare cases where there is a hormone available without a prescription, which we know has powerful effects and of which we do not know everything.
Alternative to melatonin
The basics: Finding a natural balance in 10 steps
Good sleep often starts with good sleep practices and habits. Easy to say, I know, but by respecting these fundamental rules, you are setting up the essential basis for allowing you to sleep well.
However, there are simple but fundamental things to put back in place in your life to find sleep over the long term. This is probably the most relevant solution that we can recommend to you and it is also probably the most difficult because it requires two virtues that do not run the streets: patience and forming a habit.
Always going to bed at the same time and always waking up at the same time allows you to naturally "stall" your body's rhythm. Of course this is not always possible but it is a good goal to have.
Everyone has their own preference here. Neither too hot nor too cold, it's about finding the ideal temperature of your room to reduce your time falling asleep and untimely awakenings in the middle of the night. If you're really sensitive, we recommend 8sleep or a similar solution that integrates temperature regulation directly into your mattress.
Light has a huge impact on your ability to fall asleep and stay asleep. A very small variation (car headlights passing in the distance) is enough to generate a hormonal modification (precisely at the level of melatonin secretion) that will wake. Opt for completely blackout shutters/curtains or a sleep mask. And no it's not a good idea to keep your RGB lights on.
4. Sound continuity
The sound insulation of your room is also essential. Everyone has a different sensitivity but you might as well avoid variations at this level. Using a white noise machine (I like the white noise of water) can be particularly helpful as it smooths out background noise and lets your body sleep soundly.
5. Preparation in the evening
To coach your brain to prepare for sleep, a good technique is to gradually reduce your exposure to strong light. For this you can opt for subdued lighting (red/amber) but also equip yourself with blue light blocking glasses Or gaming glasses which will block the light waves responsible for awakening (and allow you to naturally produce your melatonin).
Ideally, we recommends a screen-free activity 1 hour before going to bed because screens produce a lot of blue light which makes your brain that it's still day and it's not time to sleep ;) If you really have to stare at a screen, use glasses with ultra-powerful filter .
6. No inappropriate substances
A bizarre title that just means to avoid drinks that will impact your metabolism. We are talking here about coffee (or other caffeinated / energy drink such as Red Bull) and alcohol which last much longer than you might think. Do the test over 2 weeks, guaranteed effect.
It goes without saying that to get back to sleep, you have to avoid stimulants.
You have to eat like chickens, as my grandmother would say. That is, early enough for your body to have time to digest food before you go to bed. If you go to bed and are still digesting, your body will work harder and you will have a harder time falling asleep. The ideal? Minimum 3 hours before bedtime.
And you also have to watch what you eat. For example, if you have a big plate of pasta on a regular basis before going to bed, you may fall asleep easily but your blood glucose level will change drastically once the pasta is digested and this fluctuation could wake up well. Just a small example but it's better to focus on light meals in the evening.
8. Appropriate clothing
A simple but very effective trick. Find the outfit you'll be most comfortable in. A light and not too tight outfit will be perfect to promote good circulation and good temperature regulation. Some even recommend sleeping with nothing. A choice.
9. Drain alarm clock
If you wake up during the night to relieve yourself, that's completely normal. On the other hand, avoid turning on the light at all costs. Any light strong enough will cause your melatonin levels to drop and prevent you from falling back asleep. Best to use amber/red night light.
Finally, the best way to improve your sleep is to follow it closely to see what changes you make that work for you. " What get measured gets managed" as the famous English expression would say. In the Horus X team, we use the Oura Ring or certain Xiaomi-type connected watches and this has helped us a lot to see the impact of certain elements on our sleep (for example for me, after 2 beers, it's the guarantee of a disturbed night with an increase in body temperature, an increase in heart rate and breathing rate, impressive!)
Some alternatives to melatonin
Natural alternative: Herbal teas
Before modern medicine, our ancestors used plants much more to heal themselves. This know-how has sometimes been lost and it's a shame because some plants have real benefits for sleep in particular. The top 5 Horus X (secret of our Ardèche grandmothers):
- lemon balm
Without going into detail, by choosing this little relaxing ritual before sleeping, you are choosing a real natural solution to get back to sleep without risk.
Alternatives to be validated with your doctor.
Studies have shown that magnesium contributes to a good night's sleep. According to the American Institute of Health NIH, when the body does not have an adequate supply of magnesium, communication between nerve cells is inhibited, causing anxiety than normal. Magnesium is a natural muscle relaxant and it is also effective in blocking the production of cortisol in the brain, which means it helps to induce an overall calming effect in the body, which then allows you to fall asleep and stay asleep all night.
Glycine is an amino acid that occurs naturally in the body and plays an important role in a number of cognitive, musculoskeletal and metabolic functions. Your body also uses glycine to induce relaxation and start the sleep process. It's effective, especially for people who tend to wake up in the middle of the night. Glycine reduces overactivity in the brain and calms nervousness and anxiety that can keep you up at night. Plus, it doesn't leave you with that awful hangover in the morning like melatonin does.
Tryptophan is another amino acid the body needs to produce serotonin, a chemical known to balance and regulate mood. Serotonin also plays a crucial role in the production of melatonin. Increasing tryptophan levels in your body therefore helps you get restful sleep. Research on this compound is still limited.
It is known to act as a natural sedative and have a calming effect. L-Theanine is known for regulating and generating alpha waves in the brain, which occur when the body is deeply relaxed. When it increases alpha wave activity, theanine helps regulate sleep and suppress hyper beta waves that could keep you awake and alert when all you want is to rest and sleep. There are no known side effects.
Melatonin alternative: The final word
get enough sleep is fundamental. At Horus X we are passionate about sleep because we believe it is the very foundation of a healthy life. The difficulty here is that we are all different, so we have to test what works best for us. The most important thing before taking supplements and other wizarding potions is to restore our natural rhythm.