The pineal gland, which sits deep within the brain, is responsible for melatonin production. An adequate level of this hormone is necessary for regulating sleep cycles, and a restful night of sleep. According to the book Melatonin: Breakthrough Discoveries That Can Help You Combat Aging, Boost Your Immune System, Reduce Your Risk of Cancer and Heart Disease, Get a Better Night’s Sleep, the body produces between 5 and 25 mcg of melatonin every night. That amount decreases as we age, which can lead to restlessness and sleeping problems.
While you could take melatonin supplements, you can also boost melatonin production through more natural means to aid irregular sleep patterns.
1. Turn off all LED lights before bed
The Earth’s sun gives off about 25 percent blue light, while things like cell phones, laptop screens, TVs and LED light bulbs, give off blue light levels at about 35 percent. Studies have shown that it’s the blue light, in particular, that blocks melatonin levels first thing in the morning, something that would normally help you wake up, and assist in providing energy to get your day started. Watching TV or checking your emails on your phone at night blocks melatonin, which compromises the full production of melatonin while you sleep. It doesn’t just affect the depth of your sleep either. The real, full job of melatonin aids in detoxing, rebuilding and rejuvenating you during the wee hours of the night.
You should also avoid sleeping with your cell phone under your pillow, next to your pillow, or next to your bed. Power down your cell phones and computers to give your pineal gland every chance it can get to produce optimal melatonin levels. While we only need a small amount of melatonin to get us to sleep and to help us stay asleep, hindering the full production of melatonin may not show its harmful effects for years to come.
You could also try wearing blue light blocking sunglasses at night. According to a study of twenty volunteers, the group who wore blue blocking sunglasses three hours before bedtime experienced a significant boost in sleep quality compared to the control group who simply wore ultra-violet blocking sunglasses. These FDA Registered Blue Light Blocking Glasses are some of the best reviewed on Amazon.
2. Get some sun
While we’re often told to stay out of the sun, or to put on a heavy dose of sunblock, in order for us to produce an optimal amount of melatonin, our bodies need an optimal amount of sunlight. Melatonin levels at night are dependent on a complete shutdown of melatonin during the day, which can only be accomplished if we are exposed to extremely bright sunlight during the day. While you don’t want to overdo it, multiple studies have shown that exposure to bright sunlight can significantly increase melatonin production at night. It makes sense as melatonin is the hormone which connects us to the light/dark cycles.
Humans weren’t meant to stay indoors all day. All you need is a few minutes in the sun to start enjoying its benefits. Exposing your eyes to bright light when you wake up can help you produce more melatonin later in the day when you need it most. This makes it easier to fall asleep and to stay asleep as well. Just 10 minutes in the sunshine can even aid in reducing your cancer risk by up to 50% in addition to increasing melatonin levels.
3. Add more melatonin-rich foods to your diet
Every plant on Earth contains a certain amount of melatonin. They, too, are dependent on making light/dark cycle adjustments in order to survive, which means that one way to naturally boost melatonin levels in the body is to eat more melatonin-rich foods.
GreenMedInfo reports that Khon Kaen University in Thailand discovered some tropical fruits have significant effects on melatonin production. The scientists gave study participants a variety of fruits and then measured the amount of melatonin circulating throughout the body by looking at 6-sulfatoxymelatonin (aMT6s). They learned that pineapples, bananas, and oranges were able to increase melatonin levels significantly. Pineapples increased the presence of aMT6s over 266% while bananas increased levels by 180%. Oranges were able to increase melatonin by approximately 47%.
Other research, out of the U.K.’s Northumbria University in Newcastle upon Tyne, showed that tart cherries have a significant amount of melatonin in them, and are linked to deeper and better quality better quality sleep. Natural melatonin from red tart Montmorency cherries were found to increase sleep efficiency and quality. Drinking tart cherry juice every day for a week increased sleep by an average of 34 minutes each night, by speeding up the time it took to fall asleep as well as increased sleep efficiency by 5-6%.
The authors of Melatonin also suggested that eating foods rich in the nutrients niacinamide, vitamin B-6, calcium, and magnesium, can help. Niacinamide is found in green vegetables, fish, and red meat; vitamin B-6 is abundant in turkey, chicken, and bananas. Dark leafy greens and milk contain calcium; and magnesium is also found in dark leafy greens, as well as in whole grains and legumes.
Bananas are rich in the amino acid L-tryptophan, which is converted in the brain to 5-HTP. 5-HTP is then converted to serotonin (which also aids in the sleep process), and melatonin. Plus they’re an excellent source of potassium and magnesium, which among other things, are both considered natural muscle relaxants. When your body is relaxed, your mind is generally more relaxed too, allowing you to wind down just before bed so that you can fall asleep easier.
Other foods that naturally increase melatonin levels include oats, sweet corn, rice, ginger, tomatoes, mangosteen, and barley.
4. Pray or meditate each evening
A number of studies, including 2004 research from Oslo, Norway, have found that those who meditate or pray, produce more melatonin than people who do not. For the body to produce melatonin in the early evening hours, scientists have found it needs a more calming, relaxed atmosphere. That makes sense as both meditation and prayer helps one to relax, lower the stress hormone cortisol in the body, helping to trigger an increased production of melatonin.
If you don’t do so already, consider spending 15 minutes before bed concentrating on your breathing and clearing your mind, it will actually change your brain chemistry.
5. Watch your caffeine and alcohol intake
You probably already know if you drink a cup of coffee too late in the day you may not sleep very well that night. Despite the fact that coffee beans contain a high level of melatonin, much of their beneficial effects are mitigated by the caffeine content. Caffeine is considered a stimulant and has been associated with a lower level of melatonin in the body. While a small amount of caffeine, consumed in the morning can raise melatonin levels, drinking excessive amounts of coffee or any type of caffeinated beverage during the day can reduce melatonin production over time. And, of course, many people who drink coffee find that they need more and more to experience the benefits of energy, mental clarity and bowel regulation, which can end up wreaking havoc on melatonin. If you drink coffee in the morning, try to limit the amount you consume so not to become dependent on taking more and more of it, or over time, that increased intake may reduce your natural production of melatonin, as studies have shown.
It’s also important to limit the consumption of alcohol. Alcohol is a suppressant that reduces melatonin production and the quality of sleep. It also affects cortisol levels which again, can affect your sleep. While an occasional glass of wine won’t hurt, too much can, which is why it’s important to pay attention to how well you sleep after indulging in a glass or two of wine or other types of alcohol to determine how it will affect you.
6. Avoid processed foods
Just as there are foods that can help raise melatonin levels in the body, there are foods that can do the opposite. In addition to caffeine-loaded beverages and alcoholic drinks, processed foods can be troublesome to melatonin production, and in turn, sleep, particularly if they comprise a large part of your regular diet or are eaten too close to bedtime. Eating sugary foods throughout the day can cause dramatic changes to blood sugar, which brings on feelings of fatigue that can alter your daily routine and your sleep patterns at night too. Large meals high in refined carbohydrates can have a similar effect on blood sugar. Eating heavy meals close to bedtime interferes with the body’s process of winding down for sleep, making it hard for the body to relax so that it can produce melatonin.
7. Take a relaxing, hot bath just before bedtime
Research from Loughborough University in Leicestershire, England found that taking a hot bath just before bedtime provides a relaxing effect on the body, and the result is also a boosting effect on melatonin level. The experts believe it may be due to the reduction in cortisol levels, when cortisol decreases, melatonin levels rise.
8. Go to sleep early, and sleep in the dark
It’s important to get a full night’s sleep so that your body can go through all of the necessary sleep stages, and to avoid disrupting the circadian rhythm. As mentioned, blue light can cause sleep problems, but all types of light can interfere with sleep. Be sure to cover up any light in your bedroom, including alarm clocks and those tiny lights on electronic gadgets in addition to turning off your computer, TV, and phone. Investing in blackout window curtains can make a significant difference in improving melatonin levels and how well you sleep each night.