Getting a good night’s sleep isn’t always an easy task. We have things to read, shows to watch, family to tend to and enjoy, friends to catch up with, meals to cook, jobs to work, dogs to walk, and exercises to do (And we guess we better bathe and eat while we’re at it!). Fitting all these into one day can leave us going, going, going all day long and when it’s finally time to hit the hay, we lay there wide awake unable to finally drift off. Our adrenaline often leaves us wired, rendering us
unable to get efficient shut-eye when it’s time to rest. While life can be one reason this happens, our body’s internal “clock” can be another.
What You Should Know About Melatonin
Melatonin is the hormone that helps send us to sleep each night. It tells our bodies, “Okay, you can rest now,” and in the morning, it regulates what time we wake up. Ideally, your melatonin levels will be so on cue that you’ll drift off and wake up around the same times each day, without needing an alarm clock or sleep aid of any kind. Melatonin is also responsible for many other hormone functions in the body, specifically for women and those going through menopause.
How to Help Your Body Produce Melatonin More Efficiently
This important hormone is also regulated by the sun, which is one reason daylight savings time can interfere with a good night’s rest. It can help to get 15 minutes of morning sunlight each day to start helping your melatonin levels work more properly. You can also eat certain foods that help get your levels back where they should be too. These foods contain certain nutrients that assist with serotonin production, which is necessary for proper melatonin production in the body. Remember, your hormones are always working together to help you, so long as you give them what they need to do their job effectively.
Here are some foods that contain natural minerals that can help you rest and also support the function of melatonin in the body:
This fruit isn’t just a great source of energy and a dairy replacement. It’s also pretty fabulous at helping you sleep. Bananas contain magnesium, vitamin B6, and natural complex carbs that produce serotonin. They’re also a good source of trytophan, an amino acid that promotes relaxation and serotonin production. All of these nutrients help send your body to sleep more quickly, and regular consumption may help your body’s natural cues to go to sleep happen a little more easily. Make a healthy ice cream with bananas for a dessert, or snack on a whole banana before going to bed. You can also eat them in the afternoon to help you possibly relax a little more easily the rest of the evening, perhaps with a little cashew butter to quell those afternoon nerves!
Oats aren’t just delicious and great at keeping your heart healthy – they also help the body produce melatonin more naturally, even when eaten first thing in the morning. Oats contain an array of vitamins and minerals that assist with a healthy nervous system and relaxation. Amino acids, potassium, B vitamins, magnesium and complex carbs that will help you drift off more easily, and even regulate your sleep too. If you don’t enjoy oats for breakfast, use them in place of rice at dinner as a more fiber-rich and nutrient-dense option by cooking them savory-style.
This incredible fruit is fantastic for your health and can be enjoyed all year round. Because of its digestive benefits, you can also pair it with any meal to help prevent indigestion and digestive upset. Pineapple actually contains more melatonin-boosting benefits than oats or bananas, making it a great choice if you don’t eat much of the above options. Try to eat a little bit when you can, fresh or frozen (not dried, sugary forms). It’s also great for your immunity and your weight as well.
Oranges are a great source of calcium and B vitamins that can help relax your body, but they also help you produce melatonin more efficiently. Due to their high vitamin C and soluble fiber content, they also make a smart choice for including in your meals or snacks each week. Try blood oranges when they’re in season in the early spring, since their deeper color denotes a richer antioxidant content.
Tomatoes are also a good source of vitamin B6, potassium and they contain a little vitamin C as well. They are especially tasty at dinner in a soup, on a salad, or used in a raw lasagna, as an appetizer, or made into salsa. Use fresh when possible, and choose organic since they’re one of the crops most often contaminated with pesticides.
Cherries are well-known for their melatonin-inducing powers. They also help the body fight inflammation, aid in digestion, are low on the glycemic index and also great for your heart. Dark, sweet cherries and tart cherries have also both been shown to assist with sending you off to sleep and helping you stay asleep longer. Many people consume tart cherry juice, but we suggest using the whole fruit instead. Cherries are delicious in a smoothie, made into ice cream, or can be used in a variety of savory or sweet dishes of any kind. For a simple option, just have a small bowl before bed or pureed with some banana and a little vanilla for a healthy, naturally sweet ice cream!
Other foods that can help you rest include: sweet potatoes, brown and wild rice, black (forbidden) rice, barley, pumpkin, winter squash, corn and regular potatoes. These all contain beneficial carbohydrates for serotonin production, as well as antioxidants, fiber, potassium, magnesium and several vitamins. Walnuts, cashews, almonds, sesame seeds, peanuts and peanut butter, hemp, chia, and pumpkin seeds are also great at improving serotonin levels and enhancing relaxation. Walnuts are also known to help produce melatonin as well. Stay away from caffeine, spicy foods, heavy foods that prevent you from drifting off, and if they keep you awake, cocoa or cacao and green tea should also be avoided right before bed.
What About Melatonin Supplements?
For those of you wondering … “Can’t I just pop a melatonin supplement?”, you might want to rethink that idea. Many melatonin supplements are made with toxic fillers, and possibly even cow urine – yes, it’s really true. When you purchase vitamins and minerals, there’s no real way to know what you’re consuming unless they are made from 100 percent plant-based sources. While there are some trustworthy brands that make natural supplements, melatonin is a hormone, therefore you won’t find it in more natural form than the kind your body produces on its own. That’s what makes these foods so wonderful; they help your body do exactly what nature intended it to.
Bottom line? Stick to plants, they’ve always got your back, even when it comes to giving you some good ole’ shut-eye.
Lead Image Source: Rachel Hathaway/Flickr