A little nighttime reading
Today's post is from Maria Quintana-Pilling, a certified nutrition consultant, natural chef and founder of UrbanSpice Nutrition -- a web site with holistic women's health and digestive solutions. In her guest post, Maria shares practical advice for increasing your levels of natural melatonin -- the "sleep hormone." Without pills!
3 Ways to Increase Natural Melatonin (with Food)
By Maria Quintana-Pilling
There is nothing more annoying than not being able to fall asleep. You’re exhausted so why can’t you fall asleep? It’s frustrating.
There are many factors that go into sleep. Your daily schedule, your nighttime routine, your external environment and your internal environment (particularly your blood sugar & hormone production) all play big factors. It usually takes changing a combination of these over a period of time to really feel the effects.
Like all living creatures, you have circadian rhythms that allow all the physiological functions of the body to occur. Your circadian rhythm is your body clock. Your wake-sleep cycle is a circadian rhythm that follows a 24-hour day and night pattern and is governed by lightness and darkness.
The control center for your circadian rhythm is your brain. More specifically, it’s your pineal gland. The pineal gland can be found in the area between your eyes and is often called your third eye.
The pineal gland produces melatonin, the hormone responsible for your circadian rhythm. Melatonin is also a powerful antioxidant and is responsible for the timing and release of other hormones including female reproductive hormones and growth hormone.
So, for women in particular, it is a powerful hormone affecting not only your sleep but also your monthly cycle, fertility, menopause, and even your ability to fight off breast cancer.
Unfortunately, your melatonin production decreases as you age. Falling asleep and staying asleep become harder and harder as you grow older. This can then translate into a host of other problems, including difficult menopausal symptoms.
Melatonin is produced throughout the day and night but the most production is within the first three hours of sleep. So how can you increase your production?
Yes, there are melatonin supplements but there are also ways to increase this naturally. Here are 3 ways to increase melatonin through diet.
- Eat foods high in tryptophan.
First things first, in order to produce melatonin, you need adequate amounts of tryptophan in your diet. Since tryptophan is the precursor to melatonin, eating a small snack right before bedtime with foods high in tryptophan will help increase your production of melatonin. 1-2 slices of turkey or a handful of pumpkin seeds or almonds are great choices. You don’t want to eat too much before going to bed so don’t overdo it.
Tryptophan is an essential amino acid that comes from the proteins you eat. It is considered essential because your body cannot produce it, you must get it from food.
Foods high in tryptophan include red meat (beef, lamb), white meat (chicken, turkey), fish (including shellfish), eggs, beans and nuts/seeds. A nibble on any of these would suffice.
- Eat foods high in melatonin.
There are foods high in melatonin too. For this, these three berries take the cake: goji berries, raspberries and sour cherries. These berries have natural melatonin as well as some phytonutrients that make tryptophan more readily available to your body.
Berries can be expensive and not available all year round. Additionally, an evening snack may sound unappealing. An easy way to implement this is by drinking Montmorency Sour Cherry Juice (Organic and unsweetened) twice a day - once in the morning and once in the evening before bed. The juice is concentrated so you only need to drink a little to get some benefits. One ounce of juice in eight ounces of water is a good dose.
A note on cherries: sweet cherries are not as effective. In fact, sour cherries have more than 50 times the amount of melatonin than sweet ones. And, unfortunately, dried cherries have no benefit.
Almonds (also high in tryptophan) contain high amounts of melatonin, making almonds a great evening snack.
Other foods with melatonin include orange bell peppers, tomatoes and flaxseeds.
- Avoid foods that suppress melatonin production.
While foods rich in melatonin and tryptophan can help, if your goal is to improve sleep, you also want to avoid foods that will decrease your melatonin production. These include caffeine and alcohol.
We know that caffeine is a stimulant. When drunk in the evening, it delays your melatonin production. Caffeine also affects your cortisol production, which is another important hormone affecting sleep. Caffeine is best avoided after 3pm. If you have serious trouble sleeping, you may want to avoid it completely.
Alcohol is a suppressant that reduces melatonin production and quality of sleep. Alcohol also affects cortisol levels which again, can affect sleep. While an occasional glass of wine won’t hurt, too much can. Pay attention to your sleep pattern after a glass or two of wine or other alcohol, and be your best judge.
To learn more about how food plays a role in your cortisol and sleep cycle, read The Breakfast, Cortisol and Sleep Connection.
Maria Quintana-Pilling is a functional nutritionist, certified nutrition consultant, natural chef and founder of UrbanspiceNutrition.com. Maria is committed to helping women struggling with hormonal and digestive issues find healing with food. Maria is a graduate of Bauman College and Holistic Nutrition Lab Full Body Systems. Her interest in digestion and women’s health came from her own experience with fibroids and embarrassing digestion. She provides one-on-one nutrition programs, group detoxes/programs and cooking classes. Her focus is on teaching you how to get the most nutrition from your food in easy, fun and practical ways.
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