Having trouble falling asleep lately? Say hello to melatonin aka the sleep hormone aka your new best friend. Now, there are several over-the-counter pills which have melatonin as an ingredient, but it’s important to clarify right at the start that these drugs should not be taken without a prescription from a medical professional.
Melatonin: What and How
The pineal gland makes melatonin which is influenced greatly by the amount of light around you. No kidding - the internal clock of your body is actually pretty smart. The little pea-sized pineal gland, located above the centre of the brain, is activated as the sun goes down and darkness sets in. As it gets to work producing melatonin, the hormone enters the bloodstream.
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With a spike in the melatonin level in your body, it begins to slow down. The whole process begins around 9 pm and the melatonin stays in your bloodstream for about 12 hours, that is, until 9 am the next morning. Throughout the day the hormone is hardly present, according to Sleep Foundation.
Consequently, melatonin is used to treat jet lag, regulating sleep cycles for people with erratic work shifts and even helping the visually impaired to maintain their body clocks.
A Lancet study describes melatonin in the following manner:
Melatonin is synthesised mainly in the pineal gland. Its secretion into the bloodstream is regulated by the environmental light–dark cycle...Melatonin acts by both inducing sleep and restoring the inherent sleep rhythm that is related to the rise and fall of blood melatonin concentrations. Melatonin treatment helps to restore these human circadian rhythms, resulting in better cognition and less daytime fatigue.
Naturally Occurring Sources of Melatonin
While there is a fall in melatonin production with age, there are several other factors which can disrupt it even at a younger age. This, in turn, begs the question - is it possible to increase the levels of melatonin organically within the body?
Turns out it is. By eating food items that help its production and exercising at specific times of the day, you can actually train your body to go on sleep on time.
Edibles that help with melatonin production include fruits like tomatoes, pomegranate and grapes. Cucumber, broccoli are some vegetables which serve the same purpose. Also, try including rice and oats in your diet, along with walnuts and peanuts - all of them help with melatonin production.
Dr Prashant Saxena, Head-Pulmonology and Sleep medicine, Max Smart Super Speciality Hospital, Saket, New Delhi, reiterates this when he says:
Some foods items not only have a high amount of melatonin, but can also help to increase its production. These can be consumed at night as snacks or with meals. These food items include bananas, oats , sweet corn, rice , barley, tomatoes, chicken, soy, dairy products, whole grain and sea food.
Dr Saxena further adds:
Some micronutrients are also important in the production of melatonin and these include Vitamin B-6, zinc, magnesium and folic acid.
Another good source of melatonin is calcium.
Daily Practices to Increase Melatonin Production
According to Dr Saxena, the easiest way to increase melatonin levels include:
- Good night’s sleep
- A dark room while going to bed (black out curtains or blinds )
- Avoiding late night use of TVs, mobile phones and music
- Avoiding tea/coffee/heavy meals, sugar and aerated drinks before sleep
- Morning exercise and exposure to light
Over time, once the body gets used to an internal clock, melatonin production increases two hours before you go to bed. Therefore, a disciplined sleep schedule helps to aid melatonin production.
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