Melatonin-Rich Foods to Help You Sleep
Disclaimer: Information in this article is research-based. However, the information provided in this article should not be construed as personal medical advice or instruction. Please consult a physician for medical and dietary advice and treatment. Melatonin supplementation and insomnia related disorders should not be assumed or treated without the supervision by a medical professional.
What Is Melatonin?
Melatonin is a hormone naturally produced in the body by the pineal gland that regulates wake and sleep patterns. It can also be found in foods and is available as a supplement. In addition, some foods can trigger its production. There are other factors that can affect its production:
Light: Winter months have shorter days and can affect how and when melatonin is produced. This can induce symptoms of seasonal affective disorder (SAD) and can also lead to winter depression.
Age: We usually produce less melatonin as we age. This can alter sleep duration in older populations. It is not uncommon for the elderly to wake earlier or have irregular sleep patterns. This is usually due to lack of or irregular production of melatonin.
Supplements: Melatonin supplements have been used to control insomnia, reduce the effects of jet lag, and support the non-traditional sleep patterns of those with irregular work shifts. They have also aided in improving sleep patterns for those with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and autism. However, their use can also alter production and secretion.
Common Side Effects of Melatonin Supplementation
- Untimely drowsiness
- Lower body temperature (You may feel cold.)
- Vivid and profound dreams
- Groggy upon waking or slow to rise and gain alertness.
- Possible small change in blood pressure readings—either higher or lower.
28 Foods That Contain Melatonin or Induce Its Production
Research shows remarkably high levels of melatonin in these foods and drinks. You may be surprised to see coffee, tea, wine, and beer on this list. The origin comes from the plants used to produce these products; melatonin is synthesized in the plants that produce coffee, tea, wine, and beer. However, coffee beans and tea leaves also contain caffeine.
- Tart cherry juice
- Fennel seeds
- Grape juice
- Sunflower seeds
- Sweet corn
How to Calculate Your Bedtime
How You Can Minimize Jet Lag
- Daytime fatigue
- Lack of alertness
- Loss of appetite
- Poor coordination (psychomotor)
- Reduced cognitive skills
Did you know you can reduce the symptoms of jet lag and adjust your circadian rhythm with melatonin-rich foods? Foods high in carbohydrates may also help adjust your biological clock when you travel. How is that for a nice excuse to add spaghetti, whole grain bread, or oatmeal to your diet while traveling? Bon appetit!
- Banana: Have a banana about an hour before your new bedtime to help kickstart the production and circulation tryptophan and melatonin through your system. Mmmm, a small bowl of cottage cheese with a banana and pineapple topping really does sound like a nice evening snack.
- Protein: A small omelet with cheese can do the trick. Alternatively, a bowl of cottage cheese with a pineapple topping can also help you catch your ZZZs at the right time.
- Almonds: Not only does a handful of almonds make for a great evening snack, it is great for helping your body regulate serotonin levels and manage anxiety and stress. They are also a rich source of magnesium, which further helps with relaxation!
How to Fall Asleep Faster
Interesting Facts About Foods and Sleep
- Tryptophan is an amino acid and a precursor to serotonin.
- Serotonin is a hormone that relaxes the body and a precursor to melatonin.
- Melatonin is a hormone that regulates your circadian rhythm.
Tryptophan is an amino acid. The body uses it as a building block to make serotonin, a hormone associated with relaxation and good mood—it calms the mind and body. Disrupted production and secretion of serotonin can lead to issues with depression and insomnia. Most antidepressants are created to support the secretion of serotonin.
Some foods are commonly associated with affecting your sleep:
- Milk: Can't Sleep? Have a glass of warm milk. It is not uncommon to hear a glass of warm milk may induce sleep. This is because of the tryptophan content. The body converts tryptophan to 5-HTP, then serotonin, and ultimately, melatonin. In addition, the calcium is thought to also help induce sleep. Interestingly, human breast milk is said to already contain melatonin. Breastfeeding also promotes the release of serotonin in the mother. This mutual effect calms and soothes both the mother and breastfeeding child.
- Turkey: Turkey is well-known for making you sleepy due to its naturally high level of tryptophan.
- Protein: A high-protein meal can introduce the amino acid tyrosine to the body. Tyrosine is known to keep the mind alert. You may want to consider balancing any late night high-protein meals with carbohydrates if sleeping patterns are an issue.
Research and Other Interesting Findings
There have been positive results in melatonin research, although further studies are still needed. Here are the current findings:
- Melatonin may strengthen our immune system.
- Melatonin may help slow the spread of cancer and possibly stop it in some cases.
- Melatonin therapy may be an effective treatment for seasonal affective disorder (SAD) and general winter depression.
- Melatonin may improve sleep patterns in cardiac patients taking beta-blockers. A common side-effect of beta-blockers is insomnia and daytime fatigue.
- Melatonin may reduce the risk of ischemic stroke.
- Melatonin has been shown to reduce chronic cluster headaches.
- Laughter raises the levels of melatonin in breast milk. Breastfeeding may promote nocturnal sleep and reduce infantile colic.
Mercolini, L., Mandrioli, R., Raggi, M.A. (2011). Content of melatonin and other antioxidants in grape-related foodstuffs: measurement using a MEPS-HPLC-F method. Journal of Pineal Research. 53(1):21-28.
Chern, CM., Liao, JF., Wang, YH., Shen, YC. (2012). Melatonin ameliorates neural function by promoting endogenous neurogenesis through the MT2 melatonin receptor in ischemic-stroke mice. Free Radical Biology and Medicine. 52(9):1634-1647.
Cohen Engler, A., Hadash, A., Shehadeh, N., Pilar, G. (2012). Breastfeeding may improve nocturnal sleep and reduce infantile colic: Potential role of breast milk melatonin. European Journal of Pediatrics. 171(4):729-732.
Lemoine, P., Wade, A.G., Katz, A., Nir, T., Zisapel, N. (2012). Efficacy and safety of prolonged-release melatonin for insomnia in middle-aged and elderly patients with hypertension: a combined analysis of controlled clinical trials. Integrated Blood Pressure Control. 2012(5):9-17.
Srinivasan, Venkataramanujam, et al. (2013). Jet Lag: Use of Melatonin and Melatonergic Drugs. Melatonin and Melatonergic Drugs in Clinical Practice. pp. 367-378. Retrieved from https://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/978-81-322-0825-9_26
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
© 2012 Marisa Hammond Olivares