Melatonin supplements have become widely popular as a sleep aid because they work! But you may also want to try upping your body’s melatonin levels by eating foods with melatonin. You can experiment with foods that increase melatonin before trying to get good zzzs with the help of melatonin; or you can take advantage of melatonin in foods and melatonin supplements at the same time.
Your diet can affect your sleep patterns — which means that you may be able to address any sleep problems you may have by carefully choosing the food you eat. In fact, you can increase your body’s levels of melatonin — which is often called the “sleep hormone” — by eating foods high in melatonin.
Article at a Glance
- Studies have identified a number of foods that may promote good quality sleep.
- Some of these foods actually contain high levels of dietary melatonin.
- Early research has revealed that including foods with melatonin in one’s regular diet can help improve sleep and even provide relief from insomnia.
Why You Need Melatonin
Melatonin is a brain chemical that is produced by the body in response to darkness. Elevated melatonin levels are a signal that tell the body when it’s time to sleep. When darkness dissipates as the sun rises, melatonin levels drop and the body wakes up. Regulating the body’s internal 24-hour clock, or circadian rhythm, is melatonin’s main function.
Because light and dark trigger the decrease and increase of melatonin levels, certain activities and environmental conditions that go against the normal rhythm of the body may cause disruptions in the sleep-wake cycle.
Shift workers, for example, often experience sleepiness when working at night and difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep during the day. This is also the reason why people who move to a different time zone experience jet lag, and why screen time before bedtime can make it difficult to fall asleep.
If falling asleep and/or staying asleep is a constant problem, increasing melatonin levels by taking a melatonin supplement can “trick” your body into dozing off. Eating foods high in melatonin is another great option.
Foods High in Melatonin
Nutritionists and sleep experts alike have conducted studies that attempted to identify the best foods for good sleep. Results are still inconclusive as there are many factors that can affect the nutrient profile of each food, such as varieties of the same fruit, climate, and growing conditions. Some varieties of red grapes, for example, have been found to contain high levels of melatonin while other varieties have almost zero. Some kinds of cereals, germinated legumes/seeds, and mushrooms have also been identified as good dietary sources of melatonin.
Below are some of the foods with melatonin that have a strong potential in helping you drift off to sweet slumber.
A study on fatty fish and sleep found that the levels of vitamin D in the fish improved sleep efficiency and sleep quality among the study participants. Fatty fish is also known to be rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which are powerful antioxidants that also help regulate serotonin levels in the body; serotonin is also referred to as the “feel-good hormone.” DHA, a type of omega-3 fatty acid, may help boost melatonin levels; some studies have found that low levels of DHA in the body also lead to melatonin deficiency. Fish has also been identified as the meat product with the highest melatonin content.
Make sure to find delicious recipes for albacore tuna, farmed salmon, wild salmon, atlantic herring, anchovies, and swordfish.
Nuts are another great source of omega-3 fatty acids, and they also contain the highest amount of melatonin in plants, as well as magnesium, zinc, and a host of other essential minerals. One study, in particular, found that older adults with insomnia experienced better sleep from a combination of melatonin, magnesium, and zinc. Make sure to include almonds, cashews, pistachios, and walnuts to your grocery list the next time you go shopping.
Warm Milk and Malted Milk
Drinking warm milk before bedtime is a popular advice for people who have trouble sleeping. And the reason it works a lot of times is because milk naturally contains melatonin; fresh milk harvested from cows at nighttime, in particular, contains high levels of melatonin. Many milk products are also fortified with melatonin.
Malted milk may even multiply milk’s sleep benefits, as one one study has found that the B and D vitamins in malted milk may also support good quality sleep.
Eggs are a classic breakfast food, but you may also want to start eating eggs at night as eggs have been identified as one of the best sources of dietary melatonin. This could be the perfect time to try the many different ways to cook eggs. And you now have a good excuse to have a glass of eggnog before bedtime.
Whether eaten as fresh fruits or drank as a juice, tart cherries have been found to have sleep benefits. Results revealed that “Cherry juice increased sleep time and sleep efficiency.” The above-average concentrations of melatonin in tart cherries may be partially responsible for these effects; the antioxidant properties of the fruit may also be a factor.
Having a healthy diet is associated with healthy sleep. As it turns out, certain foods can also help increase melatonin levels which, in turn, may address sleep problems.
Alongside healthy sleep practices, such as no caffeine in the afternoon and evening, no screen time at least 2 hours before bedtime, and going to bed at the same time every night, incorporating foods with melatonin into your daily diet can further help you enjoy better sleep.
If you suffer from chronic insomnia and/or other sleep difficulties, taking melatonin gummies 2-4 hours before bedtime may also be a good addition to your overall sleep strategy. Getting a good night’s sleep should not involve a lot of work; all you have to do is figure out the combination of healthy practices that work best for you and you’ll be sleeping like a baby in no time.