Volume 5, Issue 52 | December 27, 2012
The "harmless" sleep habit that increases your cancer risk
What if I were to tell you that one simple habit that many people have can wreak havoc on your body? In fact, it significantly shuts down the production of one of the most important hormones in your body? Well, there's no "what if" about it. It's true. And a new study is showing just how dramatically it can happen.

Researchers at the Division of Sleep Medicine in Harvard Medical School conducted an experiment with 116 healthy men and women between the ages of 18-30. First, they had them sleep for a few days in their research center so they could get used to it. Then they measured the amount of melatonin they were making as they slept either in complete darkness or with a low level light on in the room. A lot of my patients sleep with a light on in case they have to get up in the night. And many parents leave a light on in their children's rooms. So these researchers wanted to know what the effect of that light is.

On average the light in the room suppressed the production of melatonin in these young people by a whopping 73.5%. In some of the participants, it completely shut down their melatonin production. According to the authors, "These findings indicate that room light exerts a profound suppressive effect on melatonin levels."

I don't know if many people appreciate how important melatonin is for health and longevity. Many think of it as little more than a sleep aid. But there is so much more to melatonin than that. It's critical for repairing and rejuvenating the body, maintaining the immune system, balancing the other hormones, and fighting cancer just to name some of its major effects.

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You probably know that your body produces melatonin at night while you are sleeping. And you probably know that exposure to light during the night decreases your production of melatonin. But I don't think many of us would have guessed how strong the anti-melatonin effect of light is. It happens even if you don't open your eyes!

What's more, these researchers conducted their study on young people. The impact on older folks is probably even greater. So if you are battling an illness; if you are especially susceptible to colds or flu; or if you have some sleep or behavioral symptoms, fatigue, hypertension, or blood sugar irregularities; make sure you pay attention to this study.

Keep your room completely darkened at night. If you need a light to help you go to sleep, use a timer to turn it off after you go to sleep. A small red LED socket light to light the way to the bathroom is fine. But leave the other lights off. This study shows that they will dramatically decrease the production of melatonin even though your eyes are closed and you are sleeping.

And since most people have trouble making sufficient melatonin as they age, take 3 mg (available at any grocery store) about 30 minutes before going to bed. It can boost your levels, help you sleep great, and help you fight off all these diseases. If you wake up groggy, you can reduce the dose a little.

Finding your Real Cures,

Frank Shallenberger, MD

REF: Gooley JJ, Chamberlain K, Smith KA, et al. Exposure to room light before bedtime suppresses melatonin onset and shortens melatonin duration in humans. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2011 Mar;96(3):E463-72. Epub 2010 Dec 30.

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