At one time or another, nearly everyone will experience problems with sleeping. Most often, they are problems with getting to sleep. Although there are many sleeping disorders that can cause a person to have difficulties sleeping, one of the most commonly prescribed medications for it is melatonin.
What melatonin is
Melatonin is a substance found in both plants and animals. In the latter, it is a hormone that has a great deal to do with the body’s blood pressure, reproductive cycle and, most importantly here, the circadian rhythm. The circadian rhythm is the term used for the cycle of being wakeful and then sleepy.
In humans, dusk signals a small gland in the brain, called the pineal gland, which is located between the two halves of the brain, to start producing melatonin from an amino acid called tryptophan. It wouldn’t be correct to say that we sleep because of melatonin, but it does cause us to be drowsy and ready to sleep and it does regulate our impulses of when to wake up and when to sleep. (By the way, the pineal gland is sometimes called the “third eye” because it can be stimulated by light and darkness like the eye can be.)
As a side note, melatonin is also a strong antioxidant.
At times, a person’s pineal gland may not produce enough melatonin or the melatonin can be produced at the wrong time, which can increase the chances of sleeplessness occurring. There are also a number of illnesses that can cause a drop in the amount of melatonin that is produced. This is the reason it is sometimes given to people who suffer from insomnia or who travel a lot and have problems with jet-lag, as well as occasionally to people who have certain illnesses.
There is also growing evidence that the amount of melatonin produced by the pineal gland is influenced by age. There is a higher concentration in most children and the amount produced often drops, the older the person gets. This can explain why insomnia is more common in older people.
The thing is that most melatonin that is taken medicinally is either man-made or made out of cow urine. I’m not making that up, as distasteful as it sounds. Naturally, most people would probably object if they knew that they were taking something made from cow pee and a lot of people don’t like taking something that is synthetic.
Natural sources of melatonin
Since both plants and animals produce melatonin, a person with an unbalanced diet is more likely to have the problem of not having enough of the hormone to sleep well. An insomniac who goes to a doctor because of their sleep disorder will often be asked what they commonly eat and this is the reason for the question.
The good news is that there are some foods that are high in melatonin. Note that when we say here that they are high in this hormone, we are still talking about an incredibly small amount. Still, consuming these foods can help people who have bouts of insomnia.
Among the medicinal herbs that are high in melatonin is St. John’s Wort, Feverfew, Fennel seeds, Cardamom seeds, Anise, Coriander, Celery seeds, Milk Thistle seeds, Lemon Balm (lemon mint), Ginger, fresh Mint, Black Tea and Poppy seeds. The first two herbs mentioned are extremely high in melatonin.
Other foods that have melatonin include mustard seed, alfalfa seeds and sprouts, sunflower seeds, almonds, oats, radishes, tomatoes, bananas, rice, corn, pomegranates, strawberries, asparagus, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, cucumber, olives, grapes, walnuts, pineapple, oranges and tart cherries.
Interestingly, tart cherries aren’t very high in melatonin, but they are quite high in serotonin, which is similar except that serotonin isn’t absorbed into the brain. They can help insomniacs, but doctors don’t know why for sure. For this reason, cherries are often said to contain a lot of melatonin and this actually includes the amount of serotonin they contain. By the numbers, sour cherry juice concentrate contains the highest amount of melatonin, ignoring the fact that most of it is actually serotonin and not melatonin.
While melatonin is often prescribed and is available over the counter in North America, there are quite a few natural sources for the hormone. If you are suffering from insomnia, it might not be necessary to take a synthetic man-made drug or something that comes from the urine of a cow.