We all know that we need to sleep, but did you know that the circadian rhythm is responsible for our sleep patterns and that melatonin rules it? If you are having sleep problems, before you turn to other sleep aids, you might want to have a look at producing more melatonin naturally. Read on to find out how to do that as well as learning about other helpful sleep hacks.
Sleep Is Essential for Your Health
When people talk about a healthy lifestyle these days, they often mention two things: diet and exercise. The truth is, there are many more aspects that make up a healthy lifestyle. Spending time outdoors every day, having a good social life, reducing negative stress, and getting enough sleep during regular night hours all also seem to affect our overall well-being. In fact, your immune system can go haywire if you don’t sleep properly, and it will make you feel constantly jet-lagged.
In addition to that, poor sleep or too little sleep can make you gain weight, can cause diabetes, and can negatively affect your memory and concentration. Poor sleep has also been linked to mental health issues, such as depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder. (4) (5)
What Is Melatonin?
The pineal gland in our brains produces the hormone melatonin, which is necessary for sleep, as it controls the circadian rhythm. The circadian rhythm is our body’s own internal clock, and disrupting it can cause severe health problems. As a general rule, the body starts producing melatonin as daylight fades. However, as we grow older—or grow stressed—the production of melatonin often decreases. (1) (5)
What Affects Melatonin Production?
When you disrupt the circadian rhythm, you can also disrupt the production of melatonin. For example, if you travel to different time zones, you do shift work, or simply sleep on irregular hours, this can affect your melatonin production. Exposure to bright light at night or darkness during the day can also disrupt melatonin levels.
Synthetic melatonin is available as a supplement, but research has not shown it to be effective in treating insomnia. Thus, buying it is most likely a waste of your money. Some studies also suggest it is harmful to your health. (3)
Sleep During Regular Hours
Because the circadian rhythm affects the production of melatonin, getting sleep during regular hours is the first rule of producing healthy levels of melatonin.
For some people, this is not possible if they do shift work, but if so, try to keep the hours as regular as possible.
Do Candlelit Nights
If you like candlelight living, you might want to try turning off all electric devices that emit light an hour or two before bedtime, as the darkness will trigger melatonin to be released. Of course, having one dim light has the same effect as candles and might be a safer option—there’s less chance of the house burning down! If you do choose to use candles, use ones that are kept far away from anything that could catch fire. Set them in a place they’re less likely to be bumped, and keep windows closed to avoid a draft that could knock them over. Make sure you have proper candle holders and something underneath that protects the underlying surface, such as a ceramic coaster.
By measuring 6-sulfatoxymelatonin (aMT6-s) in the urine (which indicates the levels of melatonin in the body), researchers found that eating bananas increased aMT6-s levels by 180%. So if you are having problems sleeping at night, having a banana a few hours before bedtime might not be such a bad idea! (2)
Banana is actually not the fruit that increases melatonin levels the most—pineapple is. Eating pineapple can increase your aMT6-s levels by a whopping 266%. So on days when you think you may have problems sleeping, have some pineapple! (2)
Oranges are another fruit that is great to eat if you want to increase melatonin production, as research has found they increase aMT6-s by 47%. (2)
Tart Cherry Juice
If you want an excuse to drink tart cherry juice, you’ve found one! One study found that drinking the juice from red tart Montmorency cherries (Prunus cerasus) for seven days increased the length of sleep by an average 34 minutes simply by speeding up the time it took to fall asleep every night. It also improved sleep efficiency by 5–6%.
This was supported by another study that showed that cherry juice increased the level of aMT6-s in the urine. (3)
Christopher Winter, M.D. and Men’s Health sleep advisor recommends eating walnuts in the evening. Why? They naturally contain melatonin. As nuts are generally thought to be good for you, walnuts can be a great evening snack or can form part of a healthy dinner. (4)
An old recipe for sleeplessness is warm milk (with cardamom in some countries). Research might one day confirm that a cup of hot milk will indeed help you sleep! Milk contains calcium and tryptophan, two things that are essential for your brain to create melatonin. (4)
What’s more, drinking something hot causes your body temperature to rise, which leads to your body starting to work to cool you down. This, too, has a sleep-inducing effect. Just think about how sleepy you can feel on a warm day! (4)
Other Sleep Hacks
There are things other than melatonin that affect your ability to sleep well—at some point, stress and worry have kept most people up at night. Therefore, things like meditation, breath work, calming exercises such as going for walks in nature, doing things that relax you such as drawing or fishing, and living an overall lifestyle that reduces negative stress are important.
Research has shown that omega-3 fatty acids—found in fish and linseed oil, amongst other foods—may affect sleep positively. Likewise, vitamin D—found in eggs and wild caught fish, as well as naturally forming when your skin is exposed to sunlight—has a positive impact on sleep. (4)
Eating carbs, like 2.5 cups of white rice four hours before bedtime, has also been shown to help people fall asleep. Possibly because carbs can help release serotonin, which makes you feel calm and happy. (4)
If you don’t want to drink milk but still want to have a cup of something hot before bed, then herbal tea is a great alternative. Herbs that have traditionally been used for their calming/sedative effects include chamomile, passion flower, oat flower tops (contains the aforementioned tryptophan), valerian, ashwagandha, lime/linden flowers/leaves (not to be confused with the citrus lime tree), lemon balm, peppermint, and lavender.
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Working out makes your body tired, and most of us would probably agree that you sleep well if you’ve hiked up a mountain that day, run along the beach, had a good gym session, or simply kept active throughout the day.
If “ants in your pants” (restless leg syndrome) is preventing you from sleeping well, then you should try increasing your intake of iron, folic acid, vitamin B12, potassium, magnesium, and zinc. However, always discuss this with a medical health practitioner first. (4) (6)
If, on the other hand, sleep apnea (where you can’t breathe regularly at night) is preventing you from sleeping well, it’s not a matter of increasing melatonin, but seeing a doctor who can help you address the problem.
Our sleep patterns are affected by our overall lifestyle, so ensuring you live a healthy lifestyle that supports good sleep patterns is important if you have problems falling asleep or sleeping well. In addition to that, eating foods and taking up habits that increase the body’s natural production of melatonin can likely greatly help you with falling asleep and sleeping soundly throughout the night!