British Summer Time is upon us! Spring has officially sprung and our days are filled with glorious sunshine.
British Summer Time (BST) is the civil time during the summer months in the United Kingdom during which the clocks are advanced from UTC, also commonly called Greenwich Mean Time (GMT),by one hour. The British Summer Time period begins on the last Sunday of March and ends on the last Sunday of October.
Brits cheer at the thought of drinking cooling beverages in a beer garden in the warm light of the setting sun, but is it all happy smiles and skimpy sun-dresses? What about the hour of sleep we lost on Sunday, and how does the human body cope with this change to our natural Circadian Rhythm? On the whole, winter is a dreary and miserable season in England. The general consensus is that the short days and long working hours render it almost impossible for us to spend any time in natural light, wreaking havoc on our intake of Vitamin D, and therefore negatively impacting not only our health and general mood, but also our sleeping patterns. Who wants to drag themselves out of bed, into the cold night air to make their way to an artificially lit office, only to return home in darkness. If there is no light, why wake up?
Similarly, the opposite is also true. The change in time arriving with British Summer Time suggests to our bodies that as it is light, later, we want to stay up and have fun for longer. Where does sleep fit into our summer routine?
One way of easing your body into the new season is through your diet. Many foods contain or help produce Melatonin, a naturally occurring compound in plant which aids the body in its sleep -wake cycle. The National Sleep Foundation of America outlines the production of, and need for, Melatonin in humans:
Melatonin is a natural hormone made by your body’s pineal gland. This is a pea-sized gland located just above the middle of the brain. During the day the pineal is inactive. When the sun goes down and darkness occurs, the pineal is “turned on” by the SCN and begins to actively produce melatonin, which is released into the blood. Usually, this occurs around 9 pm. As a result, melatonin levels in the blood rise sharply and you begin to feel less alert. Sleep becomes more inviting. Melatonin levels in the blood stay elevated for about 12 hours – all through the night – before the light of a new day when they fall back to low daytime levels by about 9 am. Daytime levels of melatonin are barely detectable. Besides adjusting the timing of the clock, bright light has another effect. It directly inhibits the release of melatonin. That is why melatonin is sometimes called the “Dracula of hormones” – it only comes out in the dark. Even if the pineal gland is switched “on” by the clock, it will not produce melatonin unless the person is in a dimly lit environment. In addition to sunlight, artificial indoor lighting can be bright enough to prevent the release of melatonin.
We may celebrate the arrival of sunshine, but understanding that it inhibits our bodies from getting to sleep is important in re-evaluating the way we approach “bedtime” during the lighter months. Along with Melatonin, Tryptophan is another chemical which has been linked to sleeping-aids due to the fact that it assists in the production of Serotonin, a calming hormone. Although scientists suggest that a change in diet alone has little effect on the levels of these hormones in your body, incorporating them into your daily eating regime may result in an overall sense of well-being and therefore improve your general demeanour and lead to a more relaxed lifestyle- essential for getting a good night’s sleep.
If you are sceptical, consider the age old myth of drinking a glass of warm milk before bed. Even though milk contains Tryptophan, you would have to consume gallons of milk for it to be scientifically effective. However, couple the minute presence of the hormone with the safety of the knowledge that your mother/grandmother/any elder of significance insists this is a sure-fire way to send you to sleep, you may just be able to trick your body into feeling sleepy. Never doubt the mind’s ability to convince itself into rationality.
Other super Melatonin foods include:
- Bananas- also include Magnesium
- Chamomile Tea
- Flax Seeds- rich in omega-3 fatty acids, a health essential and mood lifter
- Almonds- also high in Magnesium
Interested in experimenting with these foods and need a recipe? Look no further-
- 1 pt (2 cups) whole wheat pastry flour
- ½0 tsp salt
- 1 tbsp baking powder
- 3 fl oz (⅓ cup) applesauce
- 2 large banana
- 2¼ fl oz (¼ cup) honey
- 4½ fl oz (½0 cup) skim milk
How to make Lullaby Muffins
- Preheat oven to 350°F.
- In large bowl combine flour (make sure it’s whole-wheat pastry), salt and baking powder.
- In blender, puree the bananas; add the applesauce, honey and milk, blend well.
- Pour the banana mixture into the dry ingredients and stil til just moist.
- Line muffin tins with paper muffin cups, pour in batter.
- Bake 30 minutes or til tops are light brown and slightly springy.
Finally, for an awe-inspiring collection of photographs along the theme of the First Day of Spring, visit: http://www.theatlantic.com/infocus/2012/03/the-first-day-of-spring/100266/