Melatonin is a hormone produced in the pineal gland of our brain and is the main hormone involved in the regulation of the oscillation between sleep and wakefulness. It is produced from the hormone serotonin, which is synthesized from the amino acid tryptophan, which is obtained through diet or food supplements; therefore, to improve sleep regulation, we should promote the intake of foods rich in tryptophan, to promote the production of melatonin in the body.

Changes in melatonin production

In healthy individuals, melatonin synthesis begins at dusk and reaches its maximum concentration between midnight and three o'clock in the morning. After this time, its production gradually decreases, being minimal during the day. The maximum peak of melatonin coincides with the minimum value of body temperature. During the night, the plasma concentration of melatonin is six to ten times higher than during the day.

Factors affecting melatonin production

Intrinsic factors: it is important to know that the amount of melatonin is not constant throughout life. In humans, production begins at three or four months of age and increases during childhood until it reaches a maximum between eight and ten years of age. With the onset of puberty, its synthesis decreases sharply. From the age of forty onwards it gradually decreases and from the age of seventy onwards its levels drop considerably, which could explain why insomnia increases as we get older.

Extrinsic factors: exposure to artificial light, between midnight and four o'clock in the morning, causes a complete inhibition of melatonin secretion during that time. In contrast, exposure to natural light in the morning will cause the peak of melatonin secretion to occur earlier. When exposure takes place in the afternoon, the phase is delayed, which shows that there is a melatonin production response to the effect of light that can be used to treat sleep problems.

Foods for sleep

As mentioned above, one option to improve melatonin production and promote sleep regulation is to consume foods rich in tryptophan, among which are milk, fruits such as bananas, which are rich in tryptophan, melatonin, and magnesium, and kiwi, which is rich in serotonin. Likewise, cereals such as oats and rice, or nuts such as almonds and walnuts are natural sources of melatonin.

Sleep is a biological necessity that allows us to maintain physical and mental well-being. Lack of sleep diminishes the ability to perform household or work tasks and can generate anxiety and moodiness, as well as affect intellectual performance. In conclusion, to rest, our body needs to maintain optimal levels of melatonin in the blood.

Source: Center for Research in Food and Development (CIAD)