The Five Most Important Melatonin Rich Foods
If you’re someone who’s ever struggled in the past with getting a good night’s sleep, and you’ve taken to the internet to look for solutions - it’s more than likely that you have come across the term ‘melatonin’.
But what exactly is it, why does it matter, and where can we find it? These might be just a few of the questions that popped into your head.
The answers are exactly what we’ll be exploring in the following article – the big benefits of melatonin, and the top five foods that contain it.
Let’s take a look.
Melatonin – The Basics
Melatonin is a hormone produced by the pineal gland in the body, a pea sized gland located just above the centre of the brain.
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Although on it’s own, melatonin does play an important role in regulating the natural sleep cycle, there is also an intricate relationship between melatonin and many other hormones and micronutrients found in the body (or via food sources).
In a simplified form, it looks something like this:
As we can see from the diagram above, melatonin is just one piece of the sleep puzzle.
And although melatonin itself can be sourced from external sources (supplements and foods), for adequate formation of melatonin in the body, many other components are also necessary.
The Hormone of Darkness
Melatonin is sometimes called ‘the hormone of darkness’, and for good reasons.
During the daytime (or whenever the body detects light) the pineal gland is thought to be completely inactive. It is only later in the day (often when the light begins to fade, or around 9pm) that the pineal gland switches on, releasing melatonin into the bloodstream.
These increased melatonin levels induce a feeling of relaxation, encouraging you to turn off the TV and drift towards bed. Levels of the hormone remain elevated for up to twelve hours, and then the cycle repeats.
As well as regulating sleep, melatonin has also been linked with improving memory, reducing stress, preventing cancers, delaying ageing and decreasing cholesterol levels, however more evidence is needed to support these claims.
As mentioned above, as well as being produced in the body, melatonin can also be found in supplement form. It is sometimes taken to induce sleepiness, but can also help to reset the body clock after disrupted sleep patterns (resulting from jet lag or shift work).
The exact dosage of a melatonin supplement that you personally should take would ideally be determined by a medical professional.
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Although supplements may provide short-term relief, they don’t always offer prolonged results for those who suffer with more extreme sleep deprivation. The source of the supplement is also be something you should consider if you’re looking to go down that route, as many supplements are not made from natural ingredients.
Otherwise, melatonin (and melatonin building blocks) can also be found naturally in certain food sources, which we’ll look at more closely in the next section.
The Top Five Melatonin Rich Foods
Here are five of the top foods that contain melatonin, or at least melatonin-forming substances.
1. Tart Cherries
Tart cherries are a superfood that has been popularised by athletes as a way to enhance recovery after hard training sessions. They are also a potent source of antioxidants that have been shown to fight off damaging free radicals, preventing premature aging and warding off chronic disease.
To top it off, these guys are actually one of the few natural sources of melatonin itself. As outlined on the Sleep Passport site:
“One small study showed that people who drank one cup (8 ounces) in the morning and one cup in the evening slept better. These cherries are also excellent sources of vitamin C, which is important for converting tryptophan into serotonin”.
If you’re looking for ways to get more tart cherries into your diet, you could opt for the ever-popular drink - tart cherry juice. Alternatively you could purchase fresh or dried tart cherries and add them to cereal (or eat them as they are as a healthy snack before bed).
Bananas are rich in the amino acid L-tryptophan, which is converted in the brain to 5-HTP. As shown in the earlier diagram, 5-HTP is then converted to serotonin (which in itself aids in the sleep process) and of course - melatonin.
Bananas are also a great source of potassium and magnesium, which amongst other things are both natural muscle relaxants. A relaxed body means a relaxed mind, allowing you to wind down before heading off to bed.
You can snack on a whole banana or make some healthy banana ice cream as a dessert.
Oats are a great source of complex carbohydrates, great for prolonged energy throughout the day and promoting a natural sleep cycle.
They also contain a wide range of important B-Vitamins, including a small amount of the sleep inducing B-3. You’ll also find some muscle-relaxing magnesium, just for good measure.
Add some berries, seeds and almond milk to a cup of oats to make some healthy porridge to start or finish the day with.
Tomatoes are another great source of sleep-healthy B-Vitamins. They also contain potassium, which as mentioned above, acts as a muscle relaxant.
Tomatoes are also filled with plenty of fibre, immune-boosting vitamin C, and a wide range of antioxidants.
They work great in Indian dishes and in great big healthy salads.
As well as their intense flavour, pineapples are perhaps most well known for their bromelain content, a powerful enzyme that acts as an anti-inflammatory.
Pineapples are also thought to aid in digestion, boost the immune system, and improve bone strength. If that wasn’t enough, the wide range of B-Vitamins also aids in the production of melatonin.
Pineapple works great in a fruit salad, or on the top of a healthy homemade pizza.
Other notable foods that didn’t quite make the list (but will still help to improve your sleep quality)
- Almonds – rich in magnesium.
- Walnuts – contain magnesium and calcium.
- Leafy greens – rich in calcium and many other important micronutrients.
- Oranges – contain B-Vitamins and calcium.
- Dairy products – contain tryptophan and calcium.
- Turkey – another source of tryptophan.
What food has the most melatonin
Melatonin is maybe one of the oldest molecules on the planet. In fact, it's so old that nearly every plant on Earth contains the nutrient.
But of course, not all plants are created equal, and some plants contain significantly more melatonin than others. So which plant has the highest concentration of the pineal hormone? According to an MIT study conducted by Dr. Richard Wurtman, it was concluded that the cherry tart is the food with the highest concentration. With a whopping 1,350 nanograms.
Are you looking for even more? If so you can drink tart cherry juice (from concentrate), and you’ll receive an astounding 17,535 nanogram of melatonin.
How can I increase my melatonin levels
There are several ways to increase melatonin; we just went over one of those in eating melatonin-rich foods. But sometimes you don’t have access to those foods, or maybe you just aren’t up for taking in any extra calories, or perhaps you’re just looking for a higher concentration of melatonin.
In those cases, you can opt for taking melatonin supplements. Be careful though; there can be detrimental side effects to taking too much of it, like dizziness, nausea, and headaches. Be sure to talk to a physician before opting for supplementation.
But for my money, the best way to increase melatonin levels is by spending plenty of time taking in some rays. To have an optimal amount of melatonin, your first step is to get the optimal amount of sunlight. Why is this?
In order to have the ideal amount of melatonin at night, you first have to shut down melatonin during the day. Because our brains have evolved to work off of the day/night cycle, exposure to sunlight during the day is the premiere way to increase melatonin levels at night.
How do you know if you have a melatonin deficiency
As a general rule, if you don’t have any underlying causes that would cause you to lose sleep at night (such as depression), yet you still have trouble getting to sleep, and staying asleep, then it is possible that you have a melatonin deficiency. Maybe even probable.
According to Pat Elliott, a Naturopathic doctor, Many people will also experience other symptoms like early morning waking, unrefreshing sleep, easily woken up, anxiety, sensitivity to stress, and more.
Long term deficiencies can lead to less vitality in your body, causing ‘wear and tear’ to it, and your brain. You may start to become more irritable and notice a significant loss of concentration.
Because proper sleep patterns are instrumental in our mental and physical health, melatonin has also found to be linked to more severe diseases that extend to other organs. Many doctors with chronically ill patients will check their melatonin levels before prescribing any treatments.
The most effective way to find out if you have a melatonin deficiency is to get a precise reading and have a physician check your melatonin levels.
What food will help you sleep
Did you know it is recommended that you get anywhere from seven to nine hours of sleep per night? Without it, you run the risk of developing various types of chronic diseases. But with the proper amount of rest, you wake up rejuvenated, ready to start the day.
Best of all, you are contributing to a healthy body, mind, digestive system, and you are actively boosting your immune system. Proper rest even makes your muscles grow.
We’ve talked plenty about how to get better rest by boosting your melatonin levels. What foods, to eat, what supplements to take, and even some ways to naturally increase melatonin levels. But what are some foods that you can eat towards the end of the day, that will help you to sleep through the night?
By now, we’ve all heard about the warm milk strategy. But that’s just disgusting, and nobody even ‘really’ knows if it works or not. Here are some foods that do work.
- Tart cherry juice (you should remember this one from earlier)
- Almonds (and it just so happens that sliced almonds go great on a salad for a little extra crunch)
- Chamomile tea (also known as the ‘sleepy time’ tea)
- Fatty fish (salmon, trout, tuna)
Melatonin Rich Food
|Food||Amount of Melatonin (ng)|
|Tart Cherry Juice (from concentrate)||17,535|
|Underripe banana (pulp)||31.40|
|St. John’s Wort||19.61|
|Ripe banana (pulp)||18.50|
|Concord grapes (skin)||3.24|
|Red grapes (pulp)||2.27|
|Concord grapes (pulp)||1.92|
|Concord grapes (whole)||1.71|
|Red grapes (skin)||1.42|
What are your favorite melatonin-boosting foods?