Melatonin: the hormone of darkness that facilitates sleep!

In vertebrates, melatonin is a hormone produced by the pineal gland, a small endocrine gland. It is produced in darkness, thus usually at night, and gets involved in synchronizing circadian rhythms, including sleep–wake timing and blood pressure regulation. For this reason, it is often referred to as the hormone of darkness. More specifically, the secretion of melatonin normally starts in the late evening, while its highest levels are measured between 2-4 a.m. Its production is affected by the exposure of the individual to light; on exposure to (day)light, stimulation stops, and the protein is immediately destroyed. Furthermore, human melatonin production decreases as a person ages.

Properties and benefits

To begin with, it is worth mentioning that interrupted, insufficient sleep has a negative impact on both the human body and health. It affects almost all bodily functions and cognitive processes, while it can also cause serious health problems, such as high blood pressure, cardiovascular diseases, brain dysfunctions, diabetes and more. In addition, recurrent poor-quality sleep can potentially lead to irritability and emotional outbreaks. Melatonin provides multiple benefits to the human body, facilitating utmost sleep performance, as it contributes to:

  • Promoting relaxation and sleepiness
  • Facilitating sleep and improving sleep quality
  • Following a persistent pattern of sleep-wake cycle
  • Recovering from jet lag
Natural sources of melatonin

Melatonin supplements have recently become a very popular way of boosting the natural production of the hormone. Besides the fact that supplements marketed in various forms (capsules, tablets, jellybeans, sprays) are generally safe, there are many people who prefer a natural way to boost melatonin levels in their bodies.

In fact, many argue that receiving or enhancing natural melatonin production from natural food sources is a holistic way to support sleep, as these foods are usually part of a balanced diet, thus offering various health benefits. In addition, melatonin-rich foods often contain other sleep-promoting compounds, such as tryptophan and serotonin precursors, antioxidants, and vitamins, such as B6. Finally, incorporating these foods into a diet can become a sustainable and long-term solution to promote healthy sleep patterns.

So, which foods contain the hormone of darkness? While melatonin is not typically found in foods in large concentrations, there are some choices that could favor its production:

Cherries, especially sour cherries, are one of the best-known sources of melatonin found in food.

Grapes, especially the red varieties, contain a significant amount of melatonin in their skin.

Bananas are considered as a natural and healthy source of melatonin. They also contain vitamin B6, which is essential for its production.

Oats are rich in melatonin precursors, such as tryptophan and serotonin, which are involved in its natural production by the body.

Certain nuts and seeds, such as almonds, walnuts, and sunflower seeds, contain melatonin, thus becoming an integral part of a sleep-friendly diet. They are also good sources of magnesium, a chemical element (metal) that supports relaxation and the regulation of sleep.

Leafy vegetables, such as spinach and cabbage, are rich in folate (vitamin B9), which plays an essential role in melatonin synthesis. The incorporation of these vegetables into a healthy diet plan can support the natural melatonin production by the human body.

Therefore, choose the food or supplement form that best suits your needs (consult your doctor first), adopt a relaxing evening routine, avoiding the use of mobile phones and TV, and upgrade your sleep quality with the contribution of the hormone of darkness!

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