Insomnia? Find the Melatonin Within You
Everyone has those nights where they just cannot seem to fall asleep or wake up in the middle of the night unable to fall back asleep. But what about when it becomes a chronic problem that lasts weeks or months? Insomnia affects over 17% of the US population at any given time (1). So what is the answer? Well, the answer may already be inside of you, it just may need a little help.
Melatonin is produced in the pineal gland which resides in the brain and is the hormone responsible for telling us when to go to sleep and stay asleep. The body’s production of melatonin decreases as we age and can also be affected by light exposure and a poor diet (5). In order for us to make melatonin we need tryptophan, which is an essential amino acid from protein in our diet, as well as folate, vitamin B6, vitamin B12, zinc and magnesium (5). Because plants and other animals also produce melatonin, eating melatonin-rich foods along with a healthy diet can keep your levels optimal (3).
Foods High in Melatonin:
Animal foods: Eggs, Fish
Grains: Oats, Barley, Wheat, Pigmented Rice (Red, Black)
Vegetables: Tomatoes, Peppers
Fruits: Grapes, Cherries, Strawberries
Nuts: Pistachios, Walnuts
Beverages: Wine, Coffee, Cow’s Milk
Foods High in Tryptophan:
Block the Light!
Exposure to light at night from TVs, computer screens, phone or even just lightbulbs can disrupt our natural melatonin secretion (1). This can make falling asleep much more difficult. Having light in your bedroom from clocks, phones, nightlights or outside lights can stop the production of melatonin during sleep and cause you to wake up during the night.
· Control the light in your sleep environment by shutting off phones, removing nightlights or dimming clock lights.
· Using an eye mask and window coverings can block out light that you cannot control (neighbor’s lights, streetlights, etc.)
· Tyr to limit exposure to electronic devices 30-60 minutes before bed to allow your body’s melatonin time to make you drowsy.
· Use dimmers on lights you need to prepare for bed.
Supplementing with Melatonin
Supplementing with melatonin has been found to promote sleep onset and help people stay asleep through the night (1). Supplements come in several forms including fast-acting and time-released, with large dosage ranges. That can leave you wondering which is right for you and your situation. If the dosage is too low it may not be effective, but if it is too high you may experience difficulty awakening. Also, if it is taken too early in the evening it could wear off before bedtime and taken too late it might not have a chance to work in time.
· 1mg fast-acting melatonin 30-60 minutes before bed if you are having trouble falling asleep, dosage can be increased up to 3 mg if needed (3).
· 5mg time-released melatonin before bed if you having trouble staying asleep (3).
Things to keep in mind:
· Melatonin supplementation is only effective if your body’s production of melatonin is low (4).
· The safety of melatonin supplements is high but there are uncommon side effects including drowsiness, headache, dizziness and nausea (NCCIH, 2018).
· If you are pregnant or nursing, check with your health provider before supplementing (4).
· Melatonin supplementation has been shown to effective in reducing jet lag symptoms (1).
· Melatonin supplements can help reset the body’s natural clock for those who work the graveyard shift or have varying work shifts (4).
1. Costello, R. B., Lentino, C. V., Boyd, C. C., O’Connell, M. L., Crawford, C. C., Sprengel, M. L., & Deuster, P. A. (2014). The effectiveness of melatonin for promoting healthy sleep: a rapid evidence assessment of the literature. Nutrition Journal, 13, 106. http://doi.org/10.1186/1475-2891-13-106
2. IFM – Institute for Functional Medicine. (2016). Suggestions for Better Sleep.
3. Meng, X., Li, Y., Li, S., Zhou, Y., Gan, R.-Y., Xu, D.-P., & Li, H.-B. (2017). Dietary Sources and Bioactivities of Melatonin. Nutrients, 9(4), 367. http://doi.org/10.3390/nu9040367
4. NCCIH. (2018). Melatonin: In Depth. Retrieved from: https://nccih.nih.gov/health/melatonin#hed4
5. Peuhkuri, K., Sihvola, N., & Korpela, R. (2012). Dietary factors and fluctuating levels of melatonin. Food & Nutrition Research, 56, 10.3402/fnr.v56i0.17252. http://doi.org/10.3402/fnr.v56i0.17252
6. USDA. (2018). Food Composition Database: Tryptophan. Retrieved from: https://ndb.nal.usda.gov/ndb/nutrients/report?nutrient1=501&nutrient2=&nutrient3=&fg=&max=25&subset=0&offset=50&sort=c&totCount=4880