Most people know that melatonin is essential for sleep but you may not realise that this hormone is also a powerful antioxidant in the body and so crucial for a healthy immune system.
Here are some tips on how to increase your melatonin levels:
1. GET OUTSIDE IN THE MORNING
Make sure you get outside soon after waking – preferably for a nice walk, or yoga or meditation. Failing that, just a quick walk around the back yard would help.
Exposure to daylight in the morning increases cortisol – this is known as the stress hormone, but we do need some of it to get going and it naturally rises in the morning as part of our circadian rhythm. By getting some morning sunlight, you support this rhythm which ensures melatonin is released in the evening, ready for you to go to sleep.
2. EAT MEALS AT REGULAR, CONVENTIONAL TIMES
Our bodies love routine and rely on it to keep our body clock on track. Eating breakfast, lunch and dinner at appropriate times signals the body to release melatonin at the right time. If you are jetlagged, this is also a useful way to adjust to a new time zone – by eating meals in alignment with that time zone.
3. DRINK CHERRY JUICE
Cherries contain natural melatonin. However, you need to use the tart Montmorency cherry variety to get significant levels. Montmorency cherry juice is readily available in health food stores now. It tastes delicious and is also very high in antioxidants.
4. TURN OFF SCREENS IN THE EVENING
Avoid using your phone and computer about an hour before bedtime, and ideally, switch the TV off. Your brain releases melatonin in the evening in response to dropping levels of natural light. If you are constantly exposed to the blue light from screens this inhibits release of the hormone.
5. USE SOFT LIGHTING IN THE EVENINGS
As mentioned above, your brain releases melatonin in response to dropping light levels, so turn off any glaring bright lights and stick with the softer light of lamps and dimmed overhead lighting. And, of course, always sleep in a dark bedroom.
6. DOWNLOAD A BLUE FILTER APP
These inexpensive apps gradually filter out blue light from your computers and phones over the evening, so helping your brain to realise it’s nearly bedtime.
7. INVEST IN BLUE FILTER GLASSES
Not the trendiest of accessories but these glasses don’t cost much and can be worn in the evening to encourage melatonin production.
8. MAKE SURE YOU’VE HAD A BALANCED DIET OVER THE DAY
Your body relies on the amino acid, tryptophan, to make melatonin. So a good range of protein foods in your diet will provide this e.g meat, fish, eggs, pulses. You also need carbohydrates in order for tryptophan to cross the blood brain barrier, so if you are on a low-carb diet and can’t sleep, you may not be getting enough tryptophan in the brain. A little sweet potato or berries during the day can encourage this uptake.
As mentioned above, we need tryptophan to make melatonin (and serotonin). Exercise enhances the uptake of tryptophan in the brain.
10. RELAX IN THE EVENING
As part of our circadian rhythm, the stress hormone, cortisol, should naturally drop over the day and melatonin should naturally rise. So avoid stressful activities and caffeinated drinks that may promote cortisol production.
Even watching the news before you go to bed can raise cortisol and interfere with melatonin production. Ideally, adopt some relaxation techniques in the evening – warm baths, reading instead of TV, meditation etc.
A WORD ON TAKING MELATONIN
Some doctors will prescribe melatonin. This is effective but be aware that you can become dependent on it and, after a while, your body will produce less of its own melatonin.