Melatonin may be your tool for a better night’s rest which is important for health and beauty. Read my last blog about how lack of sleep can affect the skin. Melatonin is a hormone produced and secreted from your pineal gland located in the brain. This gland is so named because of its pine cone shape.

brain glands

Once thought to house the human soul, the pineal gland is quite mysterious. It produces and secretes melatonin in a cyclical pattern; increasing at night to promote sleep and decreasing during the day to promote wakefulness. and thus helps set our circadian rhythm and sleep patterns. It is thought that melatonin may also have an effect on mood and be related to SAD (seasonal affective disorder), play a role in decreasing cancer risk and act as a powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory agent. As we age, the pineal gland decreases in size and so decreases the amount of melatonin secreted.

So to improve sleep  and balance mood, we want to increase our night time levels of melatonin while decreasing our daytime levels of melatonin. There are ways to do this naturally.

Light Exposure. Light decreases melatonin levels and when melatonin decreases it also helps melatonin increase at night. So try to increase your exposure to natural sunlight during the day as  much as possible, especially in the morning. Get out in the morning for a walk or to just sit on the patio if possible. If this is difficult to do during the winter months, consider sitting under a full-spectrum light box.

Also, decrease your exposure of bright light at night. This might mean not using a night light and dimming the lights in your living room as evening progresses. Red or yellow lights interfere less with melatonin production so consider using these color lights if you need a night light. Staying up late in artificially lighted houses and sleeping in bedrooms continually invaded by stray light can rob us of the restorative powers of total darkness, most of which are mediated by melatonin.

Alcohol Intake. Although its easy to have a glass of wine in the evening to help relax, alcohol intake may actually decrease nighttime melatonin levels and thus affect sleep patterns. So go easy on the alcohol if you have difficulty sleeping. Other drugs that may affect melatonin and cause sleep problems include ibuprofen, blood pressure medications, caffeine and estradiol.

Foods. Many foods either contain melatonin or can otherwise boost melatonin levels. These include oats, sweet corn, rice, ginger, tomatoes, bananas, cherries, squash, milk, and apples. Herbs that can elevate melatonin include maca, panax, schisandra, feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium), St. John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum), and Huang-qin (Scutellaria baicalensis). On the  other spectrum, foods rich in sugar, caffeine, green tea, etc can contribute to insomnia.

Step away from electronics such as TV and computers before going to bed and spend a few moments in quiet. Enhancing your melatonin production may do more than just help your sleep. Increased melatonin may help many aspects of your life including mood, anxiety, headaches, and possibly reduce the risk for cancer.

Yawen Zeng, Jiazhen Yang, Juan Du, Xiaoying Pu, Xiaomen Yang, Shuming Yang, and Tao Yang. Strategies of Functional Foods Promote Sleep in Human Being. Curr Signal Transduct Ther. 2014 Dec; 9(3): 148–155.Published online 2014 Dec. doi: 10.2174/1574362410666150205165504 PMCID: PMC4440346

Russel J. Reiter, Dun-Xian Tan, Zhou Zhou, Maria Helena Coelho Cruz, Lorena Fuentes-Broto, Annia Galano. Phytomelatonin: Assisting Plants to Survive and Thrive. Molecules 2015, 20(4), 7396-7437; doi:10.3390/molecules20047396