When it comes to healthy living, a good night’s sleep is key. Sure you feel good after a restful night’s sleep, but its importance goes beyond boosting your mood. Getting enough sleep has direct and positive effects on your weight, heart, mind, and overall well-being, including immune function.
Although we all understand the benefits of sleep, it is estimated that 1 in every 3 of us don’t get enough sleep. Many factors can be attributed to this hard to sleep or insomnia epidemic, but one, in particular, stands out. Many people have low melatonin levels. Here’s how to naturally boost melatonin production.
During a 24-hour period, each of us produces melatonin, which controls when we go to sleep and when we wake up. This cycle is called the circadian rhythm and it is very sensitive to outside factors. There’s a reason why it’s nearly impossible to get out of bed on a rainy day. Or why many people experience seasonal depression during winter months. Those who work in front of a computer all day have a hard time falling asleep, as well as those suffering from anxiety.
When melatonin levels are high, you start to feel sleepy. But when levels are low, it can be almost impossible to fall asleep. Thankfully, there are ways to boost your melatonin levels and regain control of your sleep cycle.
What Is Melatonin?
Melatonin (N-acetyl-5-methoxytryptamine) is a hormone secreted by the pineal gland in the brain. The pineal gland is located just above your middle brain and is only the size of a pea. Its synthesis and release are stimulated by darkness and suppressed by light.
Melatonin is responsible for maintaining your body’s circadian rhythm. Why is that important? Your circadian rhythm is the fancier term for your own person internal clock, which also runs on a 24-hour schedule just like the day. This internal clock plays a critical role in when we fall asleep and when we wake up.
When it’s dark, your body produces more melatonin, but when it’s light, the production of melatonin goes down. This is why people who are blind or work night hours can have problems with their melatonin levels. But for anyone, a lack of exposure to light during the day or exposure to bright lights in the evening can disrupt the body’s normal melatonin cycles.
When you’re exposed to light, it stimulates a nerve pathway from the retina in the eye to an area in the brain called the hypothalamus which turns on of the pineal gland and it starts making melatonin, which is then released into your bloodstream.
The precursor to melatonin is serotonin, a neurotransmitter that’s derived from the amino acid tryptophan. Within the pineal gland, serotonin is processed to yield melatonin. Once serotonin is transformed into melatonin, the two neurotransmitters don’t interact again. Like melatonin, serotonin is known to affect the way you sleep and it transmits signals between nerve cells that alter your everyday brain functions. But many of the health benefits that are thought to be due to increasing serotonin levels may actually be coming from serotonin’s ability to make melatonin production possible.
The pineal gland typically starts producing melatonin around 9 p.m. Your melatonin levels then increase sharply and you begin to feel more sleepy. If your body is running as it should, your melatonin level remains elevated while you sleep, for a total of approximately 12 hours. Melatonin levels then drop, and by around 9 a.m., the level is back to a barely detectable level where it remains during the day.
Melatonin is also crucial to female reproductive health as it plays a role in controlling the timing and release of female reproductive hormones. It helps decide when a woman starts to menstruate, the frequency and length of menstrual cycles, as well as when a woman stops menstruating completely (menopause).
Young children have the highest levels of nighttime melatonin. Researchers believe that melatonin decreases as we age. If this is true, then it could explain why older people don’t tend to sleep as well as they did when they were younger.
Melatonin is a hormone secreted by the pineal gland in the brain.
The precursor to melatonin is serotonin, a neurotransmitter that’s derived from the amino acid tryptophan.
When it’s dark, the secretion and production of melatonin increases.
When it’s light, the secretion and production of melatonin decreases.
Jet lag, shift work and poor vision can disrupt melatonin cycles.
Caffeine, tobacco and alcohol can all lower levels of melatonin in the body.
Young children have the highest levels of night time melatonin.
Blue light emitted by screens (TV, computer, phone, etc.) suppresses melatonin levels, making it more difficult to fall asleep.
Melatonin can be helpful for children with developmental disabilities like autism.
Some foods that naturally increase melatonin production include oats, bananas, tart cherries, walnuts, pineapple and barley.
Daytime exercise and light exposure promote regular circadian rhythm of melatonin and help ensure higher levels at night.
Melatonin’s surprising role for immune function protection:
Melatonin is not just for jet lag! I know a lot of you are thinking, I don’t need melatonin because the extent of my travel these days is walking from the bedroom to the bathroom to the kitchen. But melatonin is actually a very powerful antioxidant and is anti-inflammatory. It also protects mitochondria, which are so important for cellular function. Melatonin may also reduce lung injury.
Twelve natural ways to boost your melatonin levels.
1. Increase natural sunlight exposure
Most of us wake up in the morning while it’s still dark. We commute to work, park in the parking garage, and sit in an office all day. By the time we make it home, it’s already dark again. By limiting your exposure to natural sunlight, you are confusing your body’s natural clock. Your body thinks it’s supposed to be awake throughout the night and therefore does not know when to produce melatonin. Try taking time out of your day for a ten-minute walk outside. Aim for the morning hours, but if you are pressed for time, get outside during your lunch break. This will let your body know that it is daytime and will help in resetting your circadian rhythm..
2. Go to bed at a reasonable time
Make sure you’re going to bed early enough to get at least 8 hours of sleep. When you stay up late, your body doesn’t produce enough melatonin at the right time. This makes you sleepy in the morning and awake in the evening. This feeling can be very similar to jetlag and can take sometimes days to overcome. Just this slight change in routine can naturally raise your melatonin levels.
Go to bed to fall asleep and don’t fall asleep on the couch only to have to wake up, interrupting your sleep cycle, to go to bed.
3. No artificial lights at night
Keep all electronics outside your bedroom. Use an alarm rather than your phone to wake you up.
Computer screens, cell phones, light bulbs, and televisions give off what is called blue light. Blue light blocks the production of melatonin. Watching tv or checking your emails in the morning help wake you up, but doing this at night will prevent you from falling asleep.
Try reducing your exposure to artificial lights 2-3 hours before you go to sleep. This will ensure a high melatonin production by the time you go to bed.
4. Eat more melatonin-rich foods
Eating foods with high amounts of tryptophan will naturally increase melatonin production. Tryptophan is an amino acid that your body does not produce naturally, but it is needed in the production of melatonin. Tryptophan can be found in most foods that contain protein, including almonds, oats, turkey, chicken, and cottage cheese.
Eat more magnesium
Magnesium also naturally boosts your melatonin levels. You can find magnesium in spinach, pumpkin seeds, yogurt, black beans, avocados, and dark chocolate.
Here are a few snacks to consume for getting a good night of sleep (high in tryptophan, calcium and magnesium):
Half a banana with a few almonds
Crackers with almond butter
Gluten-free oatmeal with honey and dark cherries
Small glass of warm goat’s milk kefir with turmeric and a dash of cinnamon
Chamomile, passionflower and valerian tea
Small glass of tart cherry juice
5. Invest in a weighted blanket
Another great way to naturally boost your melatonin levels is with a weighted blanket. For years, occupational therapists have been using weighted blankets as a therapeutic tool. Weighted blankets put pressure on the body’s sensory receptors, soothing the nervous system and regulating hormone production.
Researcher found that after using a weighted blanket, serotonin levels increased by 28%, and dopamine by 31%. Not only do these “happy hormones” have a positive effect on your mood, but serotonin is directly linked to melatonin production. When serotonin levels are high, melatonin production increases.
6. Keep your bedroom dark
Those who work night shifts can appreciate the connection between sunlight and sleep. Trying to go to sleep in the early hours of the morning is a daunting task. Only when their bedroom is dark enough to naturally increase melatonin production, can they fall asleep.
Keep all blinds closed and do not use night lights. When there is too much light in the room, your body thinks it’s daytime and will not produce melatonin.
7. Deal with stress
Melatonin isn’t the only hormone that fluctuates with our sleep and wake schedules. Cortisol, the body’s natural stress hormone, also plays a role in our internal clock. However, cortisol levels fluctuate on an opposite cycle. Production naturally increases during the day and decreases at before bed.
However, if you are stressed, cortisol levels remain high and melatonin production cannot start until those levels begin to decrease again. These two hormones become misaligned and your sleep schedule gets thrown off. Try incorporating meditation, yoga, exercise, or journaling into your daily routine. This will help keep your stress levels under control, which will decrease cortisol levels.
8. Cut down on caffeine intake
Although we all love a warm cup of coffee in the morning, drinking coffee late in the day actually block melatonin production. Caffeine triggers the body’s “fight or flight” response and increases the stress hormone, cortisol. Drinking too much caffeine can make you irritable, nervous, and unable to fall asleep. These symptoms mimic anxiety symptoms, even in a healthy person.
If you still want to sip on something warm in the evening, try making the switch to caffeine-free drinks. Chamomile, chai tea, and even lemon water contains natural antioxidants that won’t give you the jitters.
9. Use essential oils and herbs
Essential oils include: Bergamot, lavender, frankincense and mandarin
Herbs include: passion flower, valerian, St Johns Wort
10. Take a hot bath or shower
Another great way to naturally boost your melatonin levels is to take a hot bath or shower. If you have access to a steam or sauna room, even better! Heat naturally reduces tension in your muscles and boosts neuron activity in your brain. Sweating during a workout, or even laying out in the sun will reduce cortisol levels, allowing your melatonin production to increase.
11. Reduce wi-fi exposure at night
Electromagnetic fields (emfs) can be dangerous when exposed for long periods of time. As of today, there is not much research on the effects of wi-fi and cell phone radiation. But we do know that exposure to emfs reduces melatonin production.
Avoid sleeping with your phone next to your head, and if possible, turn off your wi-fi at night. This will give your body the chance to produce enough melatonin before you go to sleep.
12. Quit smoking
Smoking cigarettes at night actually reduces the amount of melatonin in your body. If you smoke, try to limit your cigarettes to the morning, or better yet, kick the habit completely. If you need help quitting, consult your doctor.
Need more support working out why your sleep is disrupted – from hormones and stress to melatonin disruption or a sluggish liver, and what to do, book in for a consultation. I look forward to seeing you soon x