Sleep is the new black

Sleep is the current health trend which costs you nothing but can have more of an impact on your health than any super-powder, green juice or bone broth. Far from the ‘work hard, play hard’ vibe of the 90’s, it is now obvious to most, that if you want to live a fulfilling, happy and productive life you need to prioritise sleep.

But is it as simple as just making sure that you go to bed earlier or set your alarm clock an hour later?  Unfortunately, not. Sleep is a complex science which is dependent on numerous biological factors that need to be balanced to ensure you get that restful and restorative sleep that your body craves.

An important factor in this web of intricacy is the neurotransmitter melatonin. Sometimes coined the ‘sleep hormone’, the amount of melatonin in your blood at night can be a key indicator of how easy sleep comes to you when your head hits the pillow and how impactful and regenerative your sleep really is.

Here I will explore ways that you can increase melatonin production in your body so that you fully reap the benefits of those additional hours of ZZZ’s.

See the stars and sleep

The production of melatonin is largely linked to the internal circadian rhythm and light (or lack of it) is one of the most important factors in its production, with the melatonin manufacturing plant in your brain peaking in activity in the early hours between 2am and 4am.  However, those cells involved in the construction of melatonin have vampire like qualities and can be extremely sensitive to light, so make sure you sleep in a pitch-black room and if this is not possible, buy an eye mask to sleep in.  Also, go tech-free at least a couple of hours before bed, as the light exposure from a laptop or mobile phone can halt production of this sleeping beauty causing disruptive and fruitless-feeling sleep.

Boosting melatonin with food

Melatonin is synthesised from the essential amino acid tryptophan which is found in foods such as turkey, lentils and nuts, and a deficiency in this nutrient may lead to a decrease in melatonin production. In the western world, deficiency in tryptophan is not common but if you eat a fairly low protein diet it might be worth considering adding these foods to your diet if you have trouble travelling to the land of nod on an evening.

In addition, some foods contain high amounts of melatonin which have been shown to increase levels of nocturnal melatonin including walnuts, olive oil, rice and tomatos. If you struggle with sleep, factor these in when you are choosing a bed time snack.

The vineyards of zen

Unsurprisingly, studies have shown that most alcohol causes the amount of melatonin made by the body to decrease, triggering troublesome sleep. However, as wine and beer naturally contain a very high amount of melatonin, the negative effects of alcohol may be counteracted when consuming these types of alcohol and they may even have a beneficial impact on our sleeping abilities.

Still, not all wine is made equal, Nebbiolo and Croatina have been shown to have very high levels of melatonin whereas the amounts in Cabernet are negligible. Choose wisely when you are pairing your wine with sleep.

Sleep well, eating the rainbow

Other potential nutrients which may contribute to improved sleep include increasing essential fatty acids in the diet, and eating foods rich in B vitamins, magnesium and zinc which have influential roles in melatonin synthesis.  Eating colourful and varied food is vital to ensure that you have all the nutrients necessary to enable your body to reach sleep the right way.

Magical melatonin

New evidence is suggesting that the presence of melatonin is not only central to proper sleep function but it also has anti-oxidative activity and helps to modulate the immune system which is important in autoimmune diseases. Melatonin may also have a protective role against cancer and cardiovascular disease.  With more of its charmed properties likely to be unveiled as the research develops, it would be unwise to ignore sleep issues which may be linked to inadequate melatonin levels in the body.

3-steps to sleep

If you are finding that you regularly have disruptive sleep or that you are habitually awake until the early hours, consider whether you need to make changes to your lifestyle to encourage more melatonin production in your body. Start by blocking light exposure on a night time, then resolve any nutritional deficiencies in the diet, and finish with melatonin boosting foods. This is the 3-step plan to the most unwittingly followed health fads going: sleep.


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