Could melatonin be the missing link in your quest for better sleep? If you’re eating well, exercising and avoiding blue light before bed, but still struggling to get some shut-eye, it could be worth upping your intake of melatonin. Here’s how.
Melatonin is a hormone produced by the pineal gland in the brain that regulates the sleep-wake cycle. While it's commonly associated with supplements, certain foods contain melatonin naturally. Here’s what it can do:
Regulation of Sleep-Wake Cycle: Melatonin is a key hormone in the regulation of the circadian rhythm, the body's internal clock that governs the sleep-wake cycle. The pineal gland releases melatonin in response to darkness, signalling to the body that it's time to prepare for sleep. Melatonin supplementation or natural increases in melatonin levels can help regulate sleep patterns and improve the overall quality of sleep. It is particularly useful for addressing sleep disorders, jet lag, or disruptions to the sleep-wake cycle.
Powerful Antioxidant Properties: Melatonin is a potent antioxidant that helps neutralise harmful free radicals in the body. It has the ability to cross cell membranes and access various cellular compartments, providing protection against oxidative stress. The antioxidant properties of melatonin contribute to its potential role in supporting overall cellular health. It may help reduce oxidative damage, inflammation, and the risk of chronic diseases. Additionally, melatonin's antioxidant effects may have neuroprotective benefits for the brain.
Immune System Support: Melatonin plays a role in modulating the immune system. It enhances the production and activity of certain immune cells, helping the body defend against pathogens and infections. Adequate melatonin levels are associated with improved immune function. This is particularly relevant during times of stress or illness when the immune system may need additional support. Melatonin's immune-modulating effects highlight its potential as a multifaceted hormone involved in overall health.
Here are some impressive foods rich in melatonin you should be eating:
Tart cherries, specifically Montmorency cherries, are among the richest food sources of melatonin, packing around 0.05 to 0.20 nanograms per gram (ng/g) of cherries – what does this amount mean in the big picture? Well, people who take melatonin for sleep generally take 1 to 5 milligrams, so though 0.05 may seem to be a small amount, it adds up quickly. Studies have found that drinking tart cherry juice increased melatonin levels and improved sleep duration and quality, making it a good option for those struggling with disrupted sleep.
Walnuts naturally contain melatonin, ranging from around 2.5 to 4.5 ng/g and they are also a good source of healthy fats and antioxidants. While not extremely high, walnuts can contribute to melatonin intake as part of a balanced diet, and they’re so easy to sprinkle over your morning oats.
Grapes, particularly red and purple varieties, contain melatonin, estimated to be around 0.05 to 0.30 ng/g.
Curious George might be onto something here – this humble fruit happens to contain melatonin, albeit at a lower rate than some of the other foods on this list as it comes in at 0.0001 ng/g. Nonetheless, it all adds up!
Fatty Fish (Salmon)
Fatty fish, such as salmon, contain melatonin, along with other health-promoting nutrients like omega-3 fatty acids. The melatonin content in fish can vary, but it's estimated to be around 0.1 to 0.2 ng/g. While not as high as in some fruits, including fatty fish in your diet offers additional nutritional benefits for your skin, gut and brain health.
Tomatoes, especially in their natural form, contain melatonin, at around 0.005 to 0.03 ng/g. While not a concentrated source, tomatoes contribute to overall dietary melatonin intake.
Barley is a grain with around 0.005 to 0.02 ng/g melatonin. Including barley in meals, such as in soups or as a side dish, can contribute to dietary melatonin.
Pineapple is a tropical fruit that contains melatonin at an estimated range of 0.001 to 0.014 nanograms per gram (ng/g). It’s also rich in enzyme bromelain known to boost digestion – and healthy digestion is another key factor in a good night’s sleep, not to mention a good day!
Oranges and citrus fruits may contain trace amounts of melatonin, though it is The lower compared to some other fruits, estimated to be around 0.0001 to 0.002 ng/g. While not a concentrated source, including oranges in your diet provides other essential nutrients like vitamin C.
Note: The melatonin content mentioned is approximate and can vary based on factors such as fruit variety, ripeness, and growing conditions. While these foods contribute to overall dietary melatonin intake, they may not be as concentrated as supplements.
Incorporating a variety of melatonin-rich foods into your diet, along with adopting sleep-friendly lifestyle practices, contributes to a holistic approach to supporting sleep and overall wellbeing. As always, individual responses to foods can vary, and it's advisable to consult with a healthcare professional for personalised advice, especially if you have specific sleep concerns.
In addition to dietary sources, melatonin is naturally produced in the body and can be influenced by various lifestyle factors. Here are some ways to optimise melatonin levels:
Natural Sunlight Exposure: Exposure to natural sunlight during the day helps regulate the circadian rhythm and promotes melatonin production. Spend time outdoors during daylight hours, especially in the morning. Aim for at least 30 minutes of sunlight exposure each day.
Consistent Sleep Schedule: Maintaining a regular sleep-wake cycle supports the natural production of melatonin. Go to bed and wake up at the same time each day, even on weekends. Create a relaxing bedtime routine to signal to your body that it's time to wind down.
Reduced Blue Light Exposure Before Bed: Blue light from electronic devices can suppress melatonin production and disrupt sleep. Limit exposure to screens (phones, tablets, computers) at least one hour before bedtime. Consider using blue light filters on devices or wearing blue light-blocking glasses.
Dark Sleep Environment: Darkness signals the body to produce melatonin, preparing for sleep. Create a dark and quiet sleep environment. Use blackout curtains, reduce ambient light, and consider using a sleep mask if needed.
Regular Exercise: Regular physical activity can positively impact sleep quality and melatonin levels. Engage in moderate exercise, such as walking, jogging, or yoga, regularly. Avoid vigorous exercise close to bedtime.
Mindful Stress Management: Chronic stress can interfere with melatonin production and disrupt sleep. Practice stress-reducing activities such as meditation, deep breathing exercises, or mindfulness. Establish healthy coping mechanisms for managing stress.
Melatonin Supplements: Melatonin supplements are available and can be used to address specific sleep issues. Consult with a healthcare professional before using melatonin supplements. They should be used under guidance and in appropriate doses.
Adequate Magnesium Intake: Magnesium is involved in the conversion of serotonin to melatonin. Include magnesium-rich foods in your diet, such as leafy green vegetables, nuts, seeds, and whole grains. Consider magnesium supplements if recommended by a healthcare professional.
Herbal Teas: Certain herbal teas, such as chamomile and valerian, may have mild sleep-inducing effects. Enjoy a cup of caffeine-free herbal tea before bedtime as part of a relaxing routine. Individual responses to herbal remedies vary.
Avoiding Stimulants: Stimulants like caffeine and nicotine can interfere with melatonin production and disrupt sleep. Limit caffeine and nicotine intake, especially in the afternoon and evening. Choose decaffeinated options when possible.
Optimising melatonin levels involves creating a sleep-friendly environment, maintaining a healthy lifestyle, and addressing individual factors that may impact sleep. It's important to note that individual responses to these strategies may vary, and consulting with a healthcare professional can provide personalised guidance based on specific needs and circumstances.
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