Melatonin and How Your Diet Affects Your Sleep
Melatonin is a naturally occurring hormone in your brain that is produced in response to darkness, therefore it is most often related to sleep. Exposure to light at night may reduce or even block melatonin production.
According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, studies suggest that melatonin may help maintain normalized sleeping patterns, especially in response to jet lag and shift work.
Jet lag is caused by rapid travel across several time zones; it is characterized by disturbed sleep, daytime fatigue, indigestion, and a general feeling of discomfort.
Shift work refers to job-related duties conducted outside of morning to evening working hours. Individuals who work afternoon to nighttime or nighttime to early morning hours often experience dysregulated sleeping patterns.
Delayed sleep phase is a disruption of the body’s biological clock in which a person’s sleep-wake timing cycle is delayed by 3 to 6 hours. People with this sleep disorder have trouble going to sleep before 2 a.m. and have trouble waking up in the morning.
Sleep problems are also a challenge many parents encounter with their children. Simple steps like having a structured bedtime routine, avoiding foods or drinks with caffeine, and limiting the amount of screen time for children may help improve their sleep.
How Melatonin Works in Your Body
Many factors play a role in preparing your body to fall asleep and then to wake up. You have an internal clock that usually has a 24-hour repeating rhythm, called the circadian rhythm, that controls when you’re awake and when you’re ready for sleep.
Your body releases chemicals in a daily pattern controlled by your body clock. When it gets dark, your body releases the melatonin hormone which signals your body that it’s time to prepare for sleep, making you feel drowsy.
Then as the sun rises, your body releases cortisol, naturally preparing your body to wake up.
Melatonin is produced naturally from the amino acid tryptophan by various tissues in the body, the major source being the pineal gland in the brain.
According to the Sleep Foundation, 35% of American adults suffer from symptoms of insomnia, so it’s important to understand how your diet and sleep routine may affect your sleep. Research provides important clues about the best foods for sleep, but it’s not conclusive. However, there are suggestions that certain foods can make you sleepy or promote better sleep. Some of these foods include:
- Kiwi – It is believed that better sleep from kiwi could relate to their antioxidant properties, ability to address folate deficiencies, and/or high concentration of serotonin.
- Tart Cherries – One study found people who drank two one-cup servings of tart cherry juice per day to have more total sleep time and higher sleep efficiency. These benefits may come from the fact that tart cherries have been found to have above-average concentrations of melatonin. Tart cherries may also have an antioxidant effect that is conducive to sleep.
- Fatty Fish – Researchers believe that fatty fish may help sleep by providing a healthy amount of vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids, which are involved in the body’s regulation of serotonin.
Other dietary habits you can employ to positively affect your sleep include:
- Caffeine – limit intake in the afternoon or evening when its stimulant effects can keep you up at night
- Alcohol – moderate consumption since it can throw off your sleep cycles even though it may make you sleepy at first
- Try to avoid eating late and close to bedtime so you’re at less risk of acid reflux
Your sleep environment and daily routines also play a critical role in your ability to sleep well. Some foods may help with sleep, but they’re less likely to be effective if you have poor sleep hygiene. If you are exposed to a lot of noise and light around bedtime, this may suppress the body’s ability to produce melatonin.
Reviewing your current sleep hygiene practices can be a starting point for sleeping better. Since it involves your daytime and bedtime routines, this review may offer an opportunity to incorporate foods and supplements that are good for sleep into a plan to get more consistent and replenishing rest.
Visit the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute website for additional resources on improving sleep habits in children and adults.
It is recommended that you consult your doctor or a healthcare professional before starting a new diet and/or supplement routine.