Here Comes the Sun


By Dr. Natasha Turner, ND

The first light of dawn stimulates the retina of your eye to make serotonin, which in turn activates your pineal gland, deep within your brain, to make even more serotonin. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that acts like an "on" switch to get you up and out into the world. Interestingly, serotonin also gives you confidence and self-esteem, which seems to be in short supply judging by the number of prescriptions for serotonin-increasing medications such as Prozac, Paxil, Zoloft, Effexor, etc. Could the high demand for these medications be at least partially due to people not getting up with the sun and into the light of the outdoors?

Winding down
With the decline of light at dusk, the retina of your eye begins to turn serotonin into melatonin. This in turn activates your pineal gland to do the same. The conversion of serotonin into melatonin is only a slight biochemical shift, but it has a dramatic effect on your entire being. Melatonin is the "off" switch that begins to shut down your "dayshift" systems so they can be recharged and repaired. Your "nightshift" crew includes growth hormone, which repairs proteins that might have been damaged during your day's exertions eeking out a living. The deeper your sleep, the greater the repair job growth hormone can do.

As your adrenal glands gradually shut down, a new batch of adrenal hormones is produced and stored. Melatonin also stimulates your thymus gland to make hormones that activate your immune system to destroy any invaders and assist in repair.

Melatonin, unlike serotonin, can readily slip through any membrane in your body, including your blood/brain barrier where its powerful antioxidant properties protect your delicate brain from free radicals.

Rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, which is associated with dreaming, is a time for your brain to sift through the myriad of stimuli that it has been exposed to in a day, sort it into patterns, solve problems and file away lessons learned. You've surely experienced a seemingly difficult problem that resolved itself upon awakening from a deep sleep.

Waking up
At the crack of dawn, as early light winks at your retina, urging it to make more serotonin, your body should be regenerated, recharged, rested and ready for another adventurous day in the sunny half of your life cycle.

There are pitfalls to this smooth solar cycle however. "Early to bed and early to rise is a bad rule for anyone who wishes to become acquainted with our most prominent and influential people," said George Ade. Ahh! The curse of the social life, with its late nights and associated drugs like coffee, alcohol and cigarettes, can throw off your delicate serotonin/melatonin schedule. Exposure to light at night, especially the light emitted by a television, reduces your production of melatonin. Could this also partially explain why sleep medication is as big a seller as serotonin-increasing drugs?

By the age of 45, most people are making about one-half the amount of melatonin that they made at the age of 25, which explains why their social activities usually decrease proportionately. So ultimately, you have to surrender the "social life" as defined by George Ade, and recall the wisdom of Ben Franklin's "early to bed and early to rise".

As the evening progresses, you should gradually reduce the light levels to which you are exposed; by 9 pm, light should be drastically reduced so your pineal gland will be stimulated to create more melatonin.

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