As most of us have heard, the general rule for sleep is to get 8 hours a night. (Some people seem to need less than 8 hours, and I always say biochemical individuality.) But why is sleep so important?
After your eyes shut and your brain waves slow, your body kick starts some very important healing processes. Sleep is when your body can really do some work on the damage done during the day. Melatonin is the hormone that kick starts this process. It is more important than many of us have realized in the past. It has been seen that decreased levels of melatonin will skew the rest of your hormonal profile, including growth hormone, testosterone, estrogen, etc. In this way it is thought of as a regulator of hormonal balance. As I have talked about in other posts, hormonal balance is key to healing and body fat control. Throw off that balance and we typically see a decreased ability to heal and deposits of fat in very particular areas of the body.
Melatonin has also been seen to possess very strong antioxidant properties. Antioxidants work to rid the body of free radicals, which are molecules formed from oxidative stresses which include improper diet, stress and smoking. Free radicals are thought to speed the aging process and contribute to processes including cancer.
Melatonin is released from the pineal gland, which resides in the middle of your brain. Its production is stimulated by the sun, and its release is inhibited by the sun and stimulated by the dark. When it gets dark, as melatonin increases in your blood, you begin to be less alert and hence fall asleep. This is when the magic is done. (Melatonin is however, inhibited by bright lights at night, which means staying up late with all the lights on.)
If you are depriving yourself of sleep, your body is not being given the adequate amount of time it needs to heal and repair tissues. This includes staying up super late at night in a well-lit room (this can actually inhibit the release of melatonin). There are many more benefits of sleep than I am going to discuss here, such as resting your adrenals glands and the increased release of growth hormone. But I wanted to stress the importance of sleep and melatonin. This does not mean I think everyone should go out and supplement with melatonin. I recommend turning the lights off and trying to be in bed by 10pm, to allow your body the time it needs to repair. And who doesn’t feel more productive when they get up early?