Improve your sleep with food alternatives to melatonin
Use of melatonin supplements
When you are experiencing serious sleep problems, it can be tempting to turn to sleep remedies for relief. Although they are described as “natural”, sleep remedies can still have side effects and may be addictive with extended use. The long-term use of sleep medications can even worsen the condition of chronic insomnia and should be a last resort.
Many adults are taking melatonin supplements as a sleep aid. The findings from an analysis conducted by the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) in 2012 show that the number of adults using melatonin doubled from 2007 to 2012 to 3.1 million people, of whom half a million are children. Melatonin use is widespread in the USA. According to the Nutrition Business Journal U.S., consumers spent more than $437 million on melatonin supplements in 2017.
As a dietary supplement frequently used as a sleep aid, melatonin is considered safe for short-term use, but its long-term effects are questionable. Studies have shown that melatonin supplements can interact with various medications, such as anticoagulants reducing blood coagulation, contraceptive drugs, diabetes medications.
Food as a natural source of melatonin
Before you reach for the sleep medicines and supplements, you can consider trying some of the alternative, more natural solutions to a better night’s sleep. Recent research has shown that insomnia can be improved with the use of natural methods and that melatonin levels can be increased without supplementing. One of the sleep hygiene’s practices that can promote good night’s sleep is making the right food choices.
Some foods are an excellent natural source of melatonin and are therefore great as an evening meal or as a light night-time snack:
- Fruits and vegetables (bananas, cherries, sweet corn, asparagus, tomatoes, pomegranate, olives, grapes, broccoli, cucumber, kale)
- Grains (rice, barley, oats)
- Nuts and Seeds (walnuts, peanuts, sunflower seeds, mustard seeds, flaxseed)
- Fish (salmon, tuna, trout, cod)
- Poultry (turkey, chicken)
Foods that contain the main vitamins and minerals that help in promoting sleep such as magnesium, calcium, potassium, tryptophan, and B6 are the foods to look for. Some of these minerals help the body produce melatonin or convert to melatonin.
Bananas are a rich source of potassium and magnesium, which help to relax overstressed muscles. They contain Vitamin B6 and tryptophan, which convert to melatonin and serotonin, both of which help to relax your brain.
Green leafy vegetables such as spinach, kale, and chard are rich in potassium, calcium and magnesium - three minerals that help promote sleep.
Milk, yogurt and cheese are rich in calcium, which has melatonin-boosting effects.
The foods high in tryptophan, an essential amino acid melatonin is synthesized from, such as fish/crab, spinach, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, dates, eggs, oats are natural remedies for insomnia.
Cherries are another natural source of melatonin. A study published by the American Journal of Therapeutics, which measured melatonin levels after drinking tart cherry juice as a treatment for insomnia, showed increased sleep time and efficiency. The participants drank 8 ounces of tart cherry juice in the morning and at night, 1-2 hours before bedtime, for 14 days. When compared to a placebo, tart cherry juice was found to extend sleep time of 8 participants with insomnia by 84 minutes. Another study examining the effect of the tart cherry beverage on the sleep of adults with insomnia reported better sleeping habits, falling asleep faster and waking up less during the night.
A good night’s sleep is essential for keeping us energetic and alert, for helping build and boost the body’s natural defenses and for keeping us in good health.
Foods rich in melatonin may modulate its levels, however, with less intensity than light, the most dominant synchronizer of melatonin production. The basic physiological function of melatonin is to convey information of the daily cycle of light and darkness to the body, and timed light exposure is considered to be the most powerful way for regulating our melatonin levels, improving sleep quality and habits.
Properly timed light exposure combined with the right food choices play an extremely important role to our better night’s sleep.