Don't Poison Yourself for a Night of Good Sleep

In 2005, Melanie Brunson awoke to find herself on the sidewalk next to a busy city street.

She stood – dazed and groggy – at the intersection of 15th and K streets in Washington, D.C.

"Who knows how long I had been standing there... " she told the Washington Post in an interview several years later.

Turns out, Brunson had been walking home from work when she nodded off along the way. Once she snapped back into consciousness, she realized she was still too out of sorts to cross the street safely.

She couldn't quite make out the sounds of the cars well enough to tell where they were... and this skill is essential to her mobility because Brunson was born without sight.

And although she was frightened, Brunson wasn't surprised... she'd been dealing with sleeping issues for her entire life. And she's not alone...

In fact, many folks with complete blindness experience disrupted sleep patterns.

This is due to a condition called "non-24-hour sleep-wake rhythm disorder," or "non-24."

Non-24 – and the sleep problems that characterize it – occurs when the light receptors in the eye don't perceive or react to light in the environment. For folks who are totally blind, this means their brains aren't primed to make melatonin when it gets dark, like the way seeing folk do.

As a result, blind folks get the message that it's time for bed at different times during the day... their sleep-wake cycles last longer than 24 hours.

Someone like Brunson might turn to medication for help getting their sleeping times to match up with the rest of society.

Longtime readers know how much I value sleep.

Researchers have linked high-quality sleep to a host of medical benefits, including lower risks of memory loss, heart disease, and obesity. Plus... you don't feel as tired.

But many folks try to get their sleep the wrong way: using melatonin supplements.

Melatonin is the hormone your body produces to help you sleep. But getting it from supplements – when you don't really need it – can be dangerous.

Researchers from Cambridge Health Alliance and the University of Mississippi analyzed the amount of melatonin, cannabidiol (or "CBD," an active ingredient in cannabis), and serotonin (one of the "happiness hormones") in 25 brands of melatonin gummies that they purchased online... and found that 22 of the 25 supposed melatonin supplements were mislabeled.

One of the supplements didn't have any melatonin in it at all, but instead contained 31.3 mg of CBD.

In the 24 products that did contain melatonin, the labeled serving sizes ranged from 1.3 mg to 13.1 mg... and the actual quantities in the supplements ranged from 74% to 375% of the labeled amounts.

(For reference, an article from the Sleep Foundation claims that a safe starting dose for melatonin in adults is between 1 mg and 5 mg, and that older adults may find less than 1 mg to be effective.)

And despite some of the products having serotonin on the label, none of them actually contained it.

Please, don't ever take these dangerous, misleading supplements... You don't know what you're really getting.

And you don't need them anyway. Try this easy sleep trick instead...

Turn off your electronics at night.

Blue light is just one color of light that electronics like laptops, tablets, and smartphones emit. But it is the one that's most disruptive to our sleep because blue light stops the release of melatonin.

A small study from Harvard Medical School compared the effects of blue and green light on the production of melatonin in a group of 16 healthy adults.

The researchers found that after 6.5 hours of exposure, the folks in the blue-light group experienced suppressed melatonin production for an average of 90 minutes. Folks in the green-light group only experienced an average of 40 minutes of suppressed melatonin production.

Additionally, those in the blue-light group exhibited more alertness than folks in the other group, as demonstrated by self-reported feelings of sleepiness, and recorded measurements of their brain-wave activity.

Longtime subscribers to my Retirement Millionaire newsletter have heard me talk about my own sleep habits... Do what I do and shut off your electronics at least an hour before bed to help yourself naturally fall into sleep.

And unless you experience non-24 (or a similar condition), don't use melatonin supplements.

What We're Reading...

Here's to our health, wealth, and a great retirement,

Dr. David Eifrig and the Health & Wealth Bulletin Research Team
January 16, 2024