Health and Wellness

Want better sleep? Try 5 foods naturally rich in melatonin

Adene Sanchez | E+ | Getty Images

Melatonin supplements are a great way to get some sleep, but some of the foods in your fridge and pantry may already have the melatonin you need.

Melatonin is defined by the CDC as a neurohormone that regulates the sleep-wake cycle. And it can be really helpful for stabilizing your sleep pattern. Light, especially the blue light from phone screens, can affect melatonin levels, says Yo-El Ju, a neurologist and sleep medicine specialist at Washington University in St. Louis.

To combat melatonin deficiency in recent years, more people began using melatonin supplements as a sleep aid. According to a research letter published by JAMA in February of this year, prevalence of melatonin use rose to 2.1% in 2017 to 2018 from 0.4% in 1999 to 2000.

But in addition to the melatonin that is already produced in the brain, you can get natural doses of the hormone from your next snack. "Melatonin is actually present in food," according to Ju.

If you're interested in melatonin for better sleep and you don't want to add yet another supplement to your list, here are 5 foods that can you give a natural dose.

5 foods that are naturally high in melatonin

  • Nuts: Walnut seeds were found to have high amounts of melatonin, and the hormone is present in other nuts like almonds, hazelnuts, pumpkin seeds and pistachios, according to a January 2022 study published in the Journal of Food Composition and Analysis.
  • Fish: Consumption of salmon three times per week for five months was associated with a positive impact on sleep and daily functioning in a small 2014 randomized trial published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine.
  • Eggs: Ample amounts of melatonin were measured in eggs, with a higher content of melatonin than meat and other animal foods in a 2017 study in the journal Nutrients.
  • Tart cherries: Tart cherry juice concentrate increased the melatonin levels of study participants and improved sleep quality and duration in a small 2012 study in the European Journal of Nutrition.
  • Milk: Cow's milk collected at night had very high amounts of melatonin that could be beneficial for human health, according to a 2019 study in the Journal of Applied Animal Research.

If you're reaching for a scoop of ice cream after dinner or considering a cup of warm milk to lull you to sleep, you could snack on a handful or two of nuts like walnuts or pistachios before bed instead. But go for the raw kind, as the roasting process has been shown to negatively impact melatonin content.

And foods like salmon, eggs and cow's milk can be consumed throughout the day to help improve your natural sleep cycle, but you need to stay consistent and expect to see changes to your quality of sleep over time.

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