Eat to Dream: Melatonin and Diet

Sleep and eating habits, if only we could separate the two. Many of my clients who complain of sleep issues, such as restless nights or working the night shift, have issues with blood sugar control or are overweight. Earlier this week, I wrote a post about our natural body clock and how this can influence our mood, our energy, and our weight.

Once we understand how foods influence our sleep, this may become for some, the best reason for switching to a healthier diet. Poor diet choices can lead to sleeplessness — think caffeine or chocolate at night, simple sugars like candies, juice, sweets, and sodas before bed, or high fat/high protein foods (which take longer to digest) late in the day can all cause a poor night’s sleep. I recommend dropping these junk foods, or at least, having them earlier in the day, when our body is awake and ready with the full force of digestion, to help with weight management and improve sleep.

And just like eating in rhythm with our hormonal clock can improve sleep, it can also reduce internal inflammation that runs high in many chronic conditions from diabetes to dementia.

In the case of autoimmune disorders, research suggests that boosting levels of the natural hormone melatonin can play a big part in reversing inflammation seen in conditions such as ulcerative colitis, lupus, multiple sclerosis, arthritis, and more.

So, let’s talk a bit about some common foods that can enhance sleep, reduce inflammation, and thereby improve mood and help us cope with stress.

  1. Bananas

Bananas white background

Bananas are a tropical fruit that contain natural melatonin, so eating these will lead to increased melatonin levels in your bloodstream. This sweet treat is also full of antioxidants, which serve to boost your immune system by zapping free radicals. Tip: Puree a frozen banana with nut butters or a fruit-flavored omega-3 oil as a super healthy swap for frozen dairy dessert.

  1. Avocados


With so many good reasons to love avocado, it’s no wonder they are on top of the list for melatonin-boosting foods. Why do they make the cut?  Because avocados are a great source of magnesium and vitamin B6, minerals essential for melatonin production. Bonus: Enjoy half of an avocado each day for a healthy dose of monounsaturated fats. Eating a variety of fat, in moderate quantities, and with each meal, helps the body absorb vitamins A, E, D, and K, which are all essential for healthy skin and tissue cells. Talk about beauty rest!

  1. Whole grains


Oats, millet, barley, rice — these whole grains contain tryptophan, an amino acid required by your body to make its own melatonin. The added benefit of whole grains is that these foods contain folate, a melatonin-supporting vitamin, as well as an abundance of the minerals zinc and magnesium.  It’s clear these are important parts of a dreamy diet. Enjoy whole grains in their unprocessed form as a warm breakfast porridge, in a hearty soup instead of noodles, or served under a savory stew.

  1. Spinach


Spinach is packed with key nutrients for the natural production of melatonin. Just half a cup of raw spinach provides substantial amounts of folate, B6, tryptophan, and magnesium.  Try using raw spinach in your smoothie, tossed into an egg scramble, or sauteed as a substitute for breakfast potatoes as a kick off to your day and a nod the sleep your body manifested the night prior.

  1. Nuts and Seeds


Nuts and seeds, from the raw cashew to the roasted cantaloupe seed, are excellent sources of zinc and magnesium, and also contain tryptophan.  Their ability to improve melatonin levels is undeniable. Although nuts contain fat, they are balanced by a fair amount of fiber and protein, and should be included daily in your diet. I recommend buying unsalted raw nuts to have the most flexibility with them in the kitchen.  





Published by Okay to Eat

Natasha Eziquiel-Shriro, MS, RDN, CDN

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