Melatonin is a vital hormone which helps to control your sleep and wake cycles. It’s produced in the pineal gland in the brain, and the amount of melatonin produced relies on how light or dark it is. Your photoreceptors, which are found on the retina part of the eyeball, are responsible for detecting light and sending signals to the brain; when it is light the activity in the pineal gland slows down resulting in less melatonin being produced in the daytime. Your pineal gland becomes more active when there is little light or total darkness and that is when melatonin is released into the bloodstream and carried around the body.
Melatonin comes from the essential amino acid tryptophan which is found in a lot of foods. The best sources of food to get tryptophan from are meat (turkey and chicken), nuts, seeds, eggs and dairy products however try not to overload on too much tryptophan as you receive this amino acid naturally; too much may help lead to organ damage and increased insulin resistance (About.com).
By following a few simple rules your body can produce enough melatonin naturally to ease you into a peaceful night’s sleep and leave you feeling refreshed and alert the following day. However many people will suffer from a reduction in melatonin levels due to certain night-time habits, this can make it more difficult for you to fall asleep with ease at night. Below are a few ways in which you can increase your melatonin production.
How to boost your melatonin production
Make sure you are getting enough light during the daytime. Although light at night can disrupt the amount of melatonin produced; lack of light during the day can also interrupt the natural melatonin cycle. When you first wake up go for a brisk walk around the block or if you live close to work, walk instead of taking the car or get off one stop earlier than you usually would. If you work in an office try and spend some of your lunch break outdoors and if possible, have your desk near a window to allow natural daylight in the room.
Stop using electronic devices an hour before bed. Turn off electronic devices such as mobile phones, televisions, tablets and anything that gives off artificial light; these devices can slow down the production of melatonin which can make it more difficult for you to fall asleep at night. In the hour leading up to bedtime try reading a book or relaxing in a warm bath with the lights dimmed.
Make sure your bedroom is dark at night. Blocking out light at night is very important if you want to maintain healthy melatonin levels. Invest in some black out blinds/curtains to minimise the amount of light entering the room however, if light is still an issue then a comfortable eye mask should help you sleep with ease.
Go to bed early. Try and go to bed at a suitable time so you are getting enough hours sleep. If you’re currently going to bed at 11pm and waking up at 6.30am try and go to bed for 10.30pm; going to bed late can disrupt the amount of melatonin produced which can result in you feeling drowsy throughout the day and more alert late at night when you want to go to sleep.
Manage your stress levels. Participate in some light exercise in the evening; yoga, mediation and brisk walking help to relieve stress and will make you feel relaxed and sleepy in time for bed. High stress levels can suppress the production of melatonin which may make it difficult for you to fall asleep at night.
Lastly, if you feel like your daytime activities are suffering due to a poor night’s sleep you should visit your local doctor. They will be able to offer advice and guide you in the right direction to ensure your sleep quality improves.