Melatonin alternatives and easy tips to improve your well-being
As an emergency physician, I am trained in the provision of acute and critical care. But it’s just as important to help my patients and readers manage their daily well-being. That’s why I’ve put together some simple trades you can start making today, from kickstarting your overnight wellness to avoiding that dreaded afternoon crash.
I regularly alternate between the day shift and the night shift, so I’m always on the lookout for hacks to take the pressure off my natural circadian rhythm. According to the latest report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, approximately 15 million Americans work permanent night shifts or work regular night shifts.
There’s certainly no shortage of over-the-counter and prescription drugs that promise more effective and restful sleep. But there are also non-drug swaps that I love.
Swap melatonin pills for a handful of tart cherries. Tart cherries, especially Montmorency cherries, contain high amounts of natural melatonin and tryptophan. An added benefit is that tart cherries contain high levels of anthocyanins, which provide substantial antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activity at a level similar to that provided by common nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen. So next time have a handful of tart cherries or a glass of tart cherry juice an hour before bed.
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Swap the nightcap for two scoops of Epsom salt in a hot bath. I have written extensively about the benefits of Epsom salt in a previous column. The added benefit of a nighttime Epsom salt bath ritual comes from leaving your phone and electronics in the other room and doing literally nothing while soaking up magnesium-induced muscle relaxation before you go to bed. Pro Tip: Light a few candles and focus on watching the flames flicker while breathing slowly and deeply, then rinse with cold water.
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Swap Netflix for a book. Don’t get me wrong, I love streaming movies. It’s easy to collapse on the couch and grab the remote. But I’ve noticed that absorbing too much blue light from the TV screen after dark both increases my nighttime anxiety and makes it harder to sleep. Instead, try charging your phone and putting it on silent in the other room and getting into bed with a new book.
If you have to work at night or really want to watch a movie, get some blue light blocking glasses. These glasses have come a long way. Now you can get stylish frames without the annoying orange tint.
Swap Supermarket Eggs for Farmer’s Market Eggs. There is little difference between white and brown eggs. But you need to care about the color of yolk. A darker or more orange yellow comes from pasture-raised hens that were fed a carotenoid-rich diet of leafy greens and grasses, flowers, and seeds. These yolks are also tastier and higher in omega-3 fatty acids. So, especially for those of you looking to lower your triglyceride cholesterol levels, talk to the farmers at your local market.
Swap That Vitamin D Supplement For Some Early Morning Sunshine. Vitamin D at 1000-2000 IU daily is a must for most adults, even those who live in an area with regular sun exposure. But nothing defines the circadian rhythm better each morning than early exposure to the sun. In addition, the morning sun has less dangerous UVA and UVB rays than the afternoon sun.
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Replace morning coffee with water with electrolytes (or fresh lemon). Although I love coffee and can’t start my day without it, I think it’s important that water is the first thing that hits my stomach in the morning. We already wake up dehydrated due to water loss during the night. Electrolytes are important gatekeepers that facilitate the transport of water across membranes and into our cells.
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Replace the candy bar with protein. This 15-hour accident hits hard. It’s easy to reach for a candy bar or other non-nutritious, empty-calorie snack. Next time try a handful of almonds or a protein shake. It will satisfy your hunger and give you an energy boost without the post-sugar crash. Protein powder supplements, including vegan options, have gotten really, really tasty in recent years. They can be enjoyed on the fly or at your desk with just a glass of cold water.
Replace the shot of espresso with a dose of nature. Instead of the afternoon coffee run, take a walk for an energy boost. Better yet, if you have access to the beach, park, or lake, take 10 minutes and spend some time in nature. The mental benefits are proven and don’t cost a penny.
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Michael Daignault, MD, is a Los Angeles Board Certified Emergency Physician. He studied global health at Georgetown University and holds a medical degree from Ben Gurion University. He completed his emergency medicine residency at Lincoln Medical Center in the South Bronx. He is also a former United States Peace Corps volunteer. Find him on Instagram @dr.daignault