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Simple Hacks for Better Sleep

By Brian A. Stenzler, M.Sc, D.C. and Catherine Darley, N.D.

Listen to the audio (15 minutes)

In my book, DREAM Wellness: The 5 Keys to Raising Kids for a Lifetime of Physical and Mental Health, along with other articles and news interviews I’ve done, the topic of sleep seems to be one of the most popular.

Catherine Darley, Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine is the sleep expert that helped provide me with a ton of information for my book related to the sleep chapter, as well as much of the bonus material that was provided to my readers (and available to you for FREE). Dr. Darley recently co-authored a 40+ plus page article titled, Is Melatonin the “Next Vitamin D”?: A Review of Emerging Science, Clinical Uses, Safety, and Dietary Supplements

Given that there has been so much interest in the topic of sleep, especially with kids, I thought it would be great to interview Dr. Darley about ways to improve sleep as well as investigate the benefits of melatonin and discuss whether it should be supplemented or not.

The interview is 15 minutes in duration and is not a sales pitch for any product or service. It is purely informational, and I can tell you that I personally learned a ton, not only to improve my sleep, but I also got tips to help my 6 ½ year old son, Zion. I hope you too will benefit from it and I look forward to receiving feedback once you read/listened/watched this Wellness Wiki.

I highly recommend you watch the interview, but if you prefer to read it, just keep scrolling.

(Note: The text of the interview has been slightly altered to enhance the reading experience.)

Catherine, please introduce yourself.

My name is Dr. Catherine Darley, I’m a naturopathic doctor and I focus exclusively on sleep.  I’ve helped people of all ages – from infants on up to elders 100 and over. It’s been a wonderful experience helping people with sleep.

We all have melatonin in our bodies, plus, there are tons of melatonin supplements out there. So it’s a hot topic that really is great for people to understand for their own health and their children’s health.

In layman’s terms, what is melatonin? We’re not dealing with providers here, we’re dealing with a lot of parents and people that themselves even if they don’t have kids, they need better sleep and want to understand what melatonin is.

Melatonin is a hormone that is produced throughout our body, we’ve got two patterns of it. One is produced in the brain when it’s dark out. So at night, your melatonin from the brain rises. And then in the morning, when the light comes on and the sun rises, your melatonin declines. That’s the first type of melatonin… that’s our pineal melatonin or brain melatonin. Then we also have melatonin in all of our cells. And that has really important functions also.

A lot of people have sleep issues caused by many factors. People probably don’t look at melatonin deficiency as one of the contributing factors. Maybe the body’s not producing enough melatonin; or perhaps the blue light at night is keeping from an individual producing it… Please talk about that for a couple of moments.

In our natural light conditions, think about human history before electric light, or if you ever have the chance to go camping, it gets really dark at night and our melatonin system needs that darkness to release melatonin.

One tip that I love people to know is that if you hold your hand out at arm’s distance, and you can still see your fingers wiggling, that’s enough light to decrease your melatonin somewhat. We want our melatonin just to really have this strong release at night. Unfortunately, the lighting in our homes even at night is often enough to suppress our melatonin somewhat.

What else does melatonin do for overall health beyond sleep even?

We have learned that a lot of chronic disease is due to inflammation; chronic, low grade inflammation. Melatonin at the cellular level is actually an anti-inflammatory. It’s also a very strong antioxidant. And we’ve all heard about eating lots of antioxidants in our diet. We want to have our melatonin come up high at night because it also has that antioxidant function.

Does the amount of melatonin produced change over a person’s lifespan?

It totally changes over the lifespan, and this is something I would really like people to understand because it’s useful information as you’re taking care of your own health. Our highest melatonin levels are when kids are about 10 years old and then in puberty, melatonin starts to decline. It will take another dive at around age 40 or 50 and get to these really low levels which aren’t necessarily optimal for health. We want our melatonin to be high so it can do all these great things for our health.

If 10-year-olds have the highest levels, would a child need to supplement with melatonin? Is it safe for them to supplement melatonin? Are there things that people can do throughout their lifetime to build up their melatonin stores so their body produces it more efficiently?

So let’s talk about kids and melatonin first. Because of this high level of melatonin that they’re naturally releasing at night, it’s unlikely that they’re going to need to take a supplement. There are some exceptions though. Children with autism spectrum disorder or ADHD… those populations are approved for long term melatonin supplementation, because they do have some changes in their natural melatonin pattern. But for the majority of kids without those conditions, we really don’t want to supplement melatonin.

In just the last couple of weeks, the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, which is the leading sleep medicine organization in the United States, came out with a position statement that children should not be given melatonin long term. And so now we have expert guidance on that question.

As far as what we can do to promote natural melatonin both in our kids and for ourselves as we get older and our melatonin levels are declining naturally… One thing I think about is the idea of “darkness deficiency.” Because we’ve got streetlights shining into our bedrooms, we’ve got little LED lights on devices around our bedrooms, we may have a nightlight, or the hallway light on; we’re getting too much light at night, and we end up having what I call a, “darkness deficiency.”

To counter that, turn off the lights and block streetlamps and all other lights as best you can. And if that’s not possible, then you also can use some blue light blocking glasses. The lens is tinted so it blocks out any of that blue light, and really causes an overall reduction in light.

The recommendation that came out this year is that we have no more than ten lux of light (which is a measurement of light), for two or three hours before bed. And that is pretty dim light. For reference, one lux is the equivalent of one candle flame from three feet away. So ten lux is not very much light.

Here is a hack that I recommend people do. On your phone, put a wind-down alarm an hour or two before bedtime. Have your alarm go off to remind you to turn down the lights, turn down the temperature, and switch into really restful, relaxing activities so that you’re ready for bed and you’re feeling sleepy by the time you get into bed.

A lot my audience knows how I feel about kids and screen time; the excessive use of the phones, iPads and electronics in general. Do they make blue block glasses for kids also?

Yes, you can find them online, but make sure that they say that they’re blue blocking, not just orange tinted glasses. And there’s a lot of options out there and a broad price range that makes it accessible for most people.

My son Zion is not on screens very much, especially during the week and certainly not at night. For parents who are raising kids, if you’re going to allow your kids to use these devices, please at least don’t give it to them a few hours before bed. And if you do, get them blue blocking glasses.

I know there are a lot of melatonin supplements on the market. Is there a particular type of supplement that if someone needed to supplement with, they would benefit the most?

There is a plant-based melatonin, because plants actually have melatonin in them. They’re responding to that light-dark cycle just as we are, which is super fascinating. (That’s a conversation for another time.) There is a plant-based melatonin called phyto-melatonin. The brand’s name is Herbatonin and it is derived from alfalfa and rice. It just has the melatonin extracted and concentrated down, which I feel good about as a naturopath. It’s not going to have those synthetic contaminants that synthetic melatonin you’re going to get at the drugstore would have in it.

There was a Canadian study a couple years ago that resulted in the pulling of a bunch of melatonin brands off the shelf from grocery stores. In 31 different brands, they found that the amount of melatonin was widely variable from what was listed on the label, something like -87% (negative 87 percent) to almost 500% more melatonin, and there were some contaminants in that melatonin. Therefore, I like people to go for a good quality melatonin.

Is the plant-based melatonin safe for children (when needed) or just adults?

Again, for children, unless they have attention hyperactivity disorder or autistic spectrum disorder, you don’t want to give melatonin long term. For adults, especially over 45-50, it might be a good idea to supplement melatonin, low dose 0.3 milligrams, just to get you to the normal levels when you’re in early adulthood.

That makes sense. How can people get their hands on it and is it something that you sell?

They can just get it online. The brand I’m referring to is called Herbatonin is by Symphony Natural Health.

Any last tips that you want to give, especially if there are some parents that are just having a lot of trouble getting their kids fall asleep? (Readers, you can download the resources from my book by clicking here or the button below.) Is there anything else that jumps out at you?

Along with the darkness at night in that hour before bed… one thing about it is children are more sensitive to the negative effects of light at night than adults are. A second tip is understanding that light in the morning almost has a teeter totter effect. So another way to promote your natural melatonin rhythm is get 20 to 30 minutes of bright outside light soon after waking.

Free bonus resources from my DREAM Wellness book include:

Create a Sleep Healthy Lifestyle Plan and Family Sleep Plan, Workbook

Parent’s Guide to Teaching Children to Sleep Alone

14 Bedtime Rituals for Better Sleep

Sleep Affirmation

About Dr. Darley:

Dr. Catherine Darley is a pioneering internationally recognized expert in the use of natural, behavioral and lifestyle medicine for the treatment of sleep disorders.  Dr. Darley founded the Institute of Naturopathic Sleep Medicine to fill the need for natural, less invasive solutions to a common problem–poor sleep.  The Institute teaches sleep health to employees at corporations and agencies, offers online sleep courses, and provides patient care based on natural treatments. “My philosophy is that sleep is essential to our health and wellbeing. Every person deserves a good night’s rest.”

Naturopathic Sleep Medicine is a developing field of medicine which is distinct from that provided at allopathic sleep centers. Naturopathic Sleep Medicine joins together the knowledge of physiological sleep processes with the treatment principles of naturopathic medicine.   Dr. Darley is playing an active part in the development of the field of Naturopathic Sleep Medicine through her original research on naturopathic treatments for sleep and specialist training for other doctors.

Click here to read the article co-authored by Dr. Darley: https://www.mdpi.com/2072-6643/14/19/3934/htm

 


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