How to Naturally Increase Melatonin & Sleep Better
We all need a good sleep. Unfortunately, too many people, myself included, have difficulties with sleep. We can’t fall asleep, we can’t stay asleep, we don’t enough sleep. People who work shifts usually have an even harder time getting adequate, high-quality sleep (i.e. hitting that deep, restorative sleep stage our bodies so desperately need).
I’m sure you’ve heard of melatonin by now – there are supplements available telling you they’ll help you sleep better and tons of articles pop up each month on ways to get a better sleep.
Melatonin is a hormone that helps regulate your circadian rhythm to promote normal sleep and waking schedules – melatonin in naturally higher at night and drops off during the day. This hormone is also responsible for regulating other hormones, like female reproductive hormones. Normal levels of melatonin help protect the brain from inflammation and improve libido; this hormone also protects our bodies from the effects of excess estrogen. And, melatonin is an excellent antioxidant.
If your sleep schedule is off, your melatonin production can become inhibited. Shift workers typically have confused melatonin production, which can seriously alter one’s ability to sleep well. Problems associated with poor melatonin production include depression, poor quality sleep, cancer, lowered immunity and panic disorders. Weight management becomes an issue because poor sleep increases the hormone ghrelin, which increases appetite.
Stress, alcohol, caffeine, blood sugar imbalances and age are all contributing factors to poor melatonin production. And, if you expose yourself to bright lights at night, including TVs and computers, you’ll make your body think it’s daytime, which lowers melatonin production.
Your body needs some specific nutrients to maintain healthy melatonin production. B complex vitamins, especially vitamin B6 and folic acid, zinc and magnesium are crucial. Foods that will help increase melatonin production include pineapples, oranges, bananas, oats, brown rice, tomatoes, ginger, barley, pumpkin seeds and sweet corn. Even a glass of red wine strategically consumed each day (i.e. not within 1 hour of bedtime) can help improve melatonin production!
Tryptophan, the amino acid found in turkey (that makes us sleep after a big Thanksgiving dinner), plays a role in melatonin production. Tryptophan helps to produce a neurotransmitter called serotonin, which is needed in good supply to produce melatonin. Eat tryptophan-containing foods closer to bedtime to help with sleep – turkey, nuts, seafood, dairy (just not cheese – too heavy), whole grains, beans, brown rice, eggs, sesame and sunflower seeds.
A good bedtime snack is a piece of whole grain toast topped with an all-natural nut or seed butter (try almond butter or pumpkin seed butter).
What about supplementation? Well, melatonin supplements have not proven to be that effective in many studies. A 2014 literature review found that exogenous melatonin may help with jet lag and insomnia in healthy adults, but it didn’t find any relationship between melatonin supplements and shift workers’ ability to sleep better. A better idea is to take some liquid magnesium before bed as this helps you relax.
Aside from food, you can help regulate your melatonin production by turning off all bright- or blue-light emitting devices 1-2 hours before bedtime. Keep your bedroom a bit cool and use blackout blinds to prevent any light from getting in. Try to get at least 30 minutes of indirect sunlight each day. For shift workers, try to get into the sun when you first wake up to help reset your circadian rhythm.
Maintain a moderate exercise routine each week but, if you do have trouble sleeping, avoid exercising right before bed. First thing in the morning (or when you wake up) or mid-day are better times to work out.
And, finally, one my lifesavers for improving sleep has been my light book. A light book, available on Amazon for a reasonable price, gives you full-spectrum light exposure for 30 minutes at a time. It’s best to turn it on right when you wake up, especially for us Canadians where it’s dark until well past 8:00am. (Yep, it’s 7:45 am here in Calgary and it is pitch black outside!)
Hormone regulation begins with healthy organs and cells so start by adding some melatonin-promoting foods to your diet today. After all, the more nourished you are, the more likely your hormones will function at their best!