Natural sources of melatonin – What to eat to sleep better?

A peaceful and uninterrupted sleep is a boon. When we sleep, the body has time to recover and the brain to process emotions and consolidate the information acquired during the day. How to improve the quality of sleep? One way is to increase melatonin production through proper nutrition. We suggest what to include in your diet to achieve this goal.

Melatonin for sleep – what is worth knowing about it?

Melatonin is a hormone produced by the pineal gland. Its main task is to synchronise the circadian rhythm, the body’s 24-hour internal clock. In addition, it helps with falling asleep and has a beneficial effect on memory and cardiovascular function. It also exhibits anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory effects [6].

The process of melatonin production is regulated by light stimuli reaching the eyes, and it peaks around 2 a.m. During the daytime, when the amount of sunlight is high, the level of melatonin produced remains low and only begins to rise as dusk falls. For this reason, exposure to blue light (emitted by a monitor or phone screen, for example) late at night or in the evening can lead to impaired melatonin production [1]. Food-supplied vitamin B12 is also essential for melatonin production [11].

Learn more about B vitamins

What products contain the most melatonin?

As scientific research shows, natural melatonin can be found in many foods. Their regular consumption helps increase the level of this hormone in the body and thus improve the quality of sleep. Below are some examples.

Natural sources of melatonin – plant foods

  • Cereals – melatonin is contained in whole grain products from wheat, barley and oats. Large amounts of it can also be found in brown, black and red rice.
  • Fruits – those with the highest melatonin concentrations primarily include mango, pineapple, cherries, strawberries, kiwi and white mulberry.
  • Other fruits can also benefit sleep quality. This is because the glucose contained in them improves the penetration of tryptophan into the blood and brain. Tryptophan is an essential amino acid for melatonin production [5].
  • Vegetables – rich sources of melatonin mainly include tomatoes and peppers [3]. Peppers are also abundant in the valuable vitamin C, which supports muscle regeneration and protects against oxidative stress. Tomatoes, on the other hand, contain potassium, which strengthens bones and has a positive effect on the nervous system [4].

  • Mushrooms – primarily forest mushrooms, which are worth including in the diet during the autumn season, that is, between September and November.
  • Legumes and seeds – including chickpeas and red beans.
  • Seeds – for example, mustard seeds and soybean and mung bean sprouts [7]. It is worth noting that sprouts are a rich source of vitamin and minerals, so especially in winter it is worth consuming them every day.
  • Nuts – the most melatonin is found in pistachios, but other species contain it, too. Nuts are also worth eating because of their high content of omega-3 fatty acids.

And don’t forget about plant oils, such as flaxseed and soybean oil, or extra virgin olive oil. Among other things, they can be used in salads, marinades and dressings, as well as an addition for bread.

Where is melatonin found? In coffee!

Of course, there is stimulating caffeine in coffee, but, as studies have shown, it also contains high concentrations of melatonin. However, it is worth drinking coffee during the day and not shortly before going to bed. Interestingly, melatonin is not found in green tea, which also contains caffeine [8].

Natural sources of melatonin – animal products

Melatonin can also be found in foods of animal origin. The highest concentration of it is found in:

  • eggs,
  • oily sea fish,
  • milk and dairy products, such as yoghurt and buttermilk.

Meat contains relatively small amounts of melatonin, but it is a rich source of vitamin B12, which is essential in maintaining normal production levels of the hormone.

What is sleep hygiene?

A proper diet will have a beneficial effect on sleep, provided that we follow the so-called principles of sleep hygiene [9]. These primarily include:

  • limiting the time spent in bed during the day (e.g. watching TV),
  • regular lifestyle and exercise in the afternoon – but no later than three hours before bedtime,
  • eating dinner a maximum of 3 hours before bedtime (possibly a light snack later),
  • avoiding strong light in the evening and windowless rooms during the day,
  • limiting attempts to forcefully fall asleep,
  • limiting the consumption of caffeine, as well as cigarettes and alcohol.