Getting a great night's sleep has become more and more problematic for many people who count on getting the sleep their body needs to power through a busy day. Melatonin comes up frequently as a potential sleep aid. What is melatonin, and why might supplementing it lead to better sleep? And, do you have to take it as a supplement or can you actually eat your way to a better night of shut-eye? Put simply, melatonin is a ‘sleep’ signal your body makes, and taking it can give your body’s natural ‘sleep’ signal a boost.
Our bodies operate on a 24-hour internal clock that’s kept on track through light exposure and physical actions like sleeping, eating, and exercising. If the cycle is operating normally, chemical messengers peak at different points in the day. Two hormones play a huge role in just how much sleep you get each night.
- A stress hormone released from your adrenal glands
- Peaks in the morning
- Makes us feel alert and awake
- A hormone released from your brain
- Peaks at night (beginning about two hours before bedtime)
- Makes your body sleepy
- Requires darkness for natural production
Image source: licht.wissen issue 19. Licht.de.
Because melatonin plays a critical role in the sleep cycle, supplementing melatonin has been shown to help with some sleep disorders including jet lag, delayed sleep phase disorder, insomnia, and shift work disorder. Whether you’ve been diagnosed with a sleep disorder or not, melatonin likely deserves a place in your ‘sleep’ toolbox (right next to counting sheep). But is supplementing melatonin the only dietary way to get more of it into your system? Nope. It turns out you can also increase melatonin by eating berries, nuts, seeds, or seed spices an hour or so before bed.