If you've been struggling to fall asleep, then you may want to look into ways to naturally produce more melatonin. Because when it comes to drifting off easily at night, this hormone is where it's at. And the more you can do to boost its production — or at least not impede its production — the better off you'll be.
"Melatonin is a hormone produced by the pineal gland within the brain that helps regulate our sleep-wake cycle," Dr. Kelly Bennion, an O2X human performance specialist, tells Bustle. "Melatonin levels follow a circadian rhythm, such that our melatonin levels rise in the evenings to help prepare our body for sleep. They then drop during the early morning hours, helping prepare us for wakefulness."
And there are several things that can throw it off. As Dr. Nikola Djordjevic, tells Bustle, "Light is the most important factor for melatonin production." Even seemingly insignificant things, like looking at your phone before bed, or how much sunlight you get each day, can play a role.
The good thing is, once you know what impacts melatonin, you can use that knowledge to your advantage. Read on below for a few ways to ensure your body has enough melatonin, according to experts, so you can get better sleep.
Get Some Sun In The Morning
Another way to naturally increase melatonin is by simply stepping outside. "This is because sunlight aids in our production of serotonin, which is the precursor to melatonin," Dr. Bennion says. "When we are exposed to sunlight, especially in the morning, our nocturnal melatonin production occurs earlier in the evening and helps us sleep more easily."
Keep Your Bedroom Dimly Lit
Instead of flicking on your overhead lights, or sleeping with the curtains open, make an effort to keep your bedroom as dimly lit as possible — especially at night.
"This can help promote a sense of relaxation as your body and mind prepare to sleep," pediatric sleep expert Courtney Zentz, tells Bustle. And again, that's because darkness is what triggers the body to create melatonin.
Take Melatonin Supplements
"Your body will recognize the decline so your pineal gland will start to make more melatonin," she says, "which will allow you to sleep more soundly when you go to bed several hours later."
Eat Melatonin-Rich Foods
Melatonin can also be found in various foods, which you can try eating several hours before bed to boost its release later at night, MacDowell says.
"Foods that naturally contain melatonin include fruits and vegetables such as corn, cucumbers, asparagus, olives, and pomegranate; nuts and seeds such as walnuts and flax; and grains like barley and rolled oats," she says.
Try "Corpse Pose"
Also known as Savasana, this yoga pose "is dubbed the 'corpse' pose because you lie still and flat on your back, focusing only on your breath," Dr. Gottfried says. "Savasana is also correlated with [...] higher melatonin levels and, therefore, helps you sleep."
Drink Water Instead
If you tend to drink coffee or tea throughout the day, switching to water or another caffeine-free beverage can be a big help. "Studies prove that caffeine interferes with melatonin production and disrupts sleep," MacDowell says.
And this can be true even if you drink it in the morning. "Some people may be so sensitive to caffeine’s effects," she says, "that any consumption delays or reduces the quality of sleep, even many hours later."
If you're looking to boost melatonin, and feel more relaxed, meditation in the evening can be a good bet. "The brain responds to a calm, quiet mind in the evening hours by releasing melatonin," MacDowell says. "Meditating can help reduce anxiety, relax the muscles, and lower nervous system arousal, which helps promote melatonin release."
Start An Exercise Routine
"Exercise is likely to increase the level of melatonin," Dr. Roy Raymann, vice president of sleep science and scientific affairs at SleepScore Labs, tells Bustle. "This is probably related to the fact that the hormones and neurotransmitters that are released during exercise support melatonin syntheses."
You'll want to do it early in the day, though. "Exercise is good for your melatonin," he says, "but if you do it at night, it might shift you sleep rhythm to a later time (and hence disrupt your sleep if you want to stay at the same bedtime)."
Keep Stress Levels Low At Night
While stress can't always be avoided, do what you can to have as relaxing an evening as possible. "Winding down before bed is extremely important," Harrison Doan, director of analytics at Saatva, tells Bustle. "Stress equals extra cortisol, and high levels of pre-bedtime cortisol negatively impact your body’s melatonin production at night."
Depending on what stresses you out, you may want to avoid checking work emails, or going on social media, and replace all of that with meditating, reading, or listening to a relaxing podcast.
Wear Amber-Tinted Glasses
If you do have to check your emails at night, or simply want to look at your go phone, go ahead and get yourself a pair of amber-tinted glasses to wear while doing so.
"These glasses [...] block the blue light that electronic devices emit," Dr. Will Cole, a functional medicine practitioner, tells Bustle, so it'll be less likely to mess with your melatonin.
"Smelling [lavender] oil for 10 to 15 minutes before rest has been shown to enhance sleep quality and influence melatonin through the nervous system," Dr. Rob Carter III and Dr. Kirti Salwe Carter, tell Bustle.
Whether you put some lavender essential oil in a diffuser, or spray it on your pillow, this scent may naturally boost melatonin.
And the same is true for these other small changes and habits. Things like eating melatonin-rich food, turning down the lights, and getting more sun during the day can all pay a role in producing more melatonin, so you can get better sleep.