Boost Your Melatonin Levels Naturally With These 3 Expert Tips
People turn to melatonin when they need help sleeping. But did you know that your body produces this hormone naturally? It's made by the small, pea-sized pineal gland located in the middle of the brain. Our bodies produce melatonin in the evening and throughout the night in order to help support the timing of our circadian rhythm (our 24-hour internal clock), which regulates our sleep-wake cycle. Certain lifestyle choices can increase and decrease the amount of melatonin you produce.
While it may seem easier to take a melatonin supplement than to change certain habits, supplements can pose a risk: some studies show that high doses of melatonin can cause headaches or nightmares. Dependency is also concern — people can become reliant on taking melatonin, which is why doctors don't recommend taking it long term to solve sleep problems. Looking for natural ways to produce more melatonin? POPSUGAR reached out to Colin Espie, PhD, professor of sleep medicine at the University of Oxford, for tips on how to increase your body's production of the sleep hormone.
How to Increase Melatonin Naturally
- Reduce light exposure at night. Darkness prompts our bodies to start producing melatonin. Exposure to light when you're trying to fall asleep (including blue light from screens) may inhibit the production of melatonin, which makes it harder to fall asleep and can cause you to wake up in the middle of the night. Dr. Espie suggests dimming lights in your bedroom and living areas and avoiding screens an hour or so before bedtime to support an increase in melatonin levels.
- Avoid caffeine. If you can avoid it entirely, great. But if you can't, try to drink it in the morning rather than in the afternoon or evening, since consuming caffeine close to bedtime can interfere with sleep. There is some evidence that caffeine suppresses melatonin, Dr. Espie says.
- Expose yourself to natural daylight. Since your inner circadian clock uses light and dark to signal when to wake and sleep, you want to get as much natural daylight as possible, especially early in the morning. This will make you alert and energized during the day and can help you feel more tired in the evening, which will help you fall asleep faster.
You may have heard that there are certain foods that are rich in melatonin, and that's true. But Dr. Espie says not to rely on those, as some of them may not contain enough melatonin to have a sleep-inducing effect. "There is very limited evidence that certain foods promote sleep or improve sleep quality in a meaningful way," he says.
Non-Melatonin Habits to Improve Sleep
Beyond boosting your body's melatonin levels to improve sleep, establishing good sleep habits is essential. Try waking up and going to bed at the same times every day (even on weekends) to support your circadian rhythm. Try some calm-inducing activities before bed, such as yoga, meditation, taking a bath or hot shower, reading in bed, or listening to relaxing music. Make your bedroom a sanctuary by investing in cozy pillows and blankets, and wear earplugs to block out noise and an eye mask to block out light. Reducing stress is key in improving sleep. While it's easier said than done, you can intentionally incorporate joyful moments into your day. Even taking five minutes to spend time with a loved one; snuggle with a pet; belly laugh over a podcast; or do something you love, such as singing or drawing; can ripple throughout your day and provide stress relief, which in turn can make falling asleep easier.