Your circadian rhythm is your body’s 24-hour sleep/wake cycle that responds primarily to light and dark. In the evening, the pineal gland in your brain produces more melatonin, which is a hormone that makes you sleepy. In the morning, melatonin levels are lower, your temperature and cortisol levels increase, and you are more alert.
It’s important to get at least 7 – 8 hours of sleep during the night, not only so that it can function optimally during the day, but also because of the necessary biological functions that occur during sleep. That’s when your brain processes and stores new information as well as clearing out toxic waste; your immune system releases proteins called cytokines that help your body fight inflammation, infection, and injury; your sympathetic nervous system, which controls your fight or flight response, relaxes, whereas when you don’t get enough sleep it increases activity and your blood pressure goes up; your pituitary gland releases growth hormone to help your body grow and repair itself; nerve cells communicate and reorganize to support healthy brain function; energy is restored.
There are a number of foods you can eat that will increase your melatonin levels and help you get a good night’s sleep. These include:
Tart cherry juice – high in anti-inflammatory antioxidants as well as melatonin. Also a good source of potassium.
Almonds – an excellent source of melatonin, as well as magnesium, which activates your body’s parasympathetic nervous system that is responsible for making you calm and relaxed. They’re also high in healthy fats, fiber, and antioxidants.
Gogi berries – high in anti-aging and immune-boosting antioxidants as well as melatonin.
Mushrooms – high in tryptophan, which your body uses to make melatonin and serotonin, as well as being a direct source of melatonin. (Turkey is another well-known source of tryptophan, often leading to the post-Thanksgiving dinner nap!)
Eggs – a complete protein, containing all the essential amino acids, as well as important nutrients like vitamin D, folate, selenium, and riboflavin. Also rich in melatonin and tryptophan.
Pistachios – another nut that is an excellent sourcce of melatonin, as well as fiber, omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin E, and antioxidants.
Oats – besides being high in fiber and helping lower your cholesterol, whole oats are rich in melatonin as well as tryptophan.
Milk – the long-time sleep remedy of a glass of warm milk is based on it being one of the best dietary sources of melatonin as well as being high in tryptophan.
While these foods are high in melatonin to help you sleep, it’s important not to eat late at night when your body will be converting food into energy that it doesn’t need. Allow yourself at least 12 hours of fasting in the evening, also known as intermittent fasting, for optimum health.