You’ve probably heard the saying that all health begins in the gut, right? This is because your gut has this wonderful, diverse population of microorganism that help boost immunity, digest and assimilate your food, and produce substances that are used throughout your body. And, getting a good night’s rest is also highly dependent on your gut. Foods that boost melatonin and serotonin production are important to keep your sleep cycle regular.
Why Your Gut Matters
The health of your gut depends on so many factors.
There are some things that reduce the effectiveness of your gut microbiome. Things like processed foods, eating while rushed or stressed out, foods you’re intolerant to, and stress can all negatively impact your gut microbiome.
On the flip side, there are some things that help improve the overall health of your gut, too!
Fermented foods like yogurt, kefir, pickles, kimchi, kombucha and even dark chocolate provide probiotics to help build up healthy gut bacteria. And, foods rich in prebiotics, like ground flaxseed, jicama, apples, and wheat bran, feed the probiotics, helping them grow and thrive.
When your gut microbiome is balanced, it’s better able to handle bacteria and toxins you ingest, and keep your immune system strong.
It’s also much better at producing your ‘feel good’ neurotransmitter, serotonin!
All About Serotonin
While serotonin plays a role in sleep regulation, it has a lot of other functions too. One of its main purposes is to make you feel happy and content.
Serotonin is a neurotransmitter, meaning that it is a chemical that communicates messages between nerve cells. This important neurotransmitter helps regulate appetite and digestion, memory, sexual desire and function, and helps with smooth muscle contractions (the ones you don’t consciously feel).
Many studies have shown that people with low serotonin levels are often depressed. It’s not clear which causes the other, or if they play off each other, though. But, many people have shown improved mood and happiness when their serotonin levels have increased.
Serotonin and Your Diet
It should be pretty obvious that serotonin is highly impacted by your diet, right? I mean, if serotonin is produced by your gut microbiome and your diet interferes with a healthy microbiome, it should be clear that serotonin production can be majorly impacted!
Serotonin is produced when a chemical reaction combines tryptophan with a reactor, tryptophan hydroxylase. When combined, this forms 5-HTP.
Not all serotonin is produced in the gut; some is also produced in the brain. This is because serotonin is needed by the brain but it can’t cross the blood-brain barrier, so the brain needs to make its own.
All About Melatonin
The pineal gland, a tiny gland in your brain, produces melatonin. Melatonin’s main purpose is to control your sleep and wakefulness cycles.
If melatonin is normal, it will be at its highest around 9 pm and at its lowest around 7 am. Light affects how much melatonin is produced, which is why you probably feel sleepier in the early evening during our long winter months and can stay alert a lot longer during the summer.
Melatonin and Serotonin – The Connection
I mentioned earlier that serotonin plays a role in your sleep, right? Serotonin is actually the precursor to melatonin. If your body isn’t making enough serotonin, you also won’t be making enough melatonin.
And this is where sleep disturbances can kick in, things like being unable to fall asleep at night. (Of course, there is another connection to not being able to fall asleep – cortisol – but you can read more about that here.)
Foods to Boost Melatonin and Serotonin Production
Boost your serotonin production with turkey, seafood, dairy, chicken, nuts, seeds and eggs.
Other foods help boost melatonin production, like bananas, oatmeal and milk. One of my favorite bedtime snacks is raw or large flake oats cooked with a few walnuts and half of a sliced banana! I always sleep amazing after this snack.
Cherries actually contain melatonin too.
And, of course, keep that gut microbiome healthy with fermented foods and fresh fruits and vegetables.
Alternative Ways to Boost Melatonin and Serotonin
In Canada, our sunlight hours are very inconsistent. This can lead to a very messed up sleep pattern! One way I like to help regulate my sleep is to use a Litebook. You can buy them off Amazon and they function to give your body a boost of natural light in the morning to help keep melatonin production normal. It’s very helpful if you work in an office without a lot of natural light.
I’ve also discovered a great supplement regime that’s been helping me sleep for months. While I try to eat foods high in tryptophan, I found that supplementing with 5-HTP helps me sleep. Your body converts tryptophan to 5-HTP and then 5-HTP into serotonin. So, if you’re not getting enough tryptophan from food, 5-HTP may help improve serotonin levels.
And, I also drink powdered magnesium before bed. I like the brand CALM because it tastes good and seems to work well. Magnesium is a relaxant, perfect for people who feel wired at bedtime.