Millions of people use melatonin as a sleep aid every night. Melatonin is a hormone that promotes sleepiness. It isn’t a sedative; rather, it helps you enter a state of quiet wakefulness that’s conducive to falling and staying asleep. Plants and animals, including us, naturally produce melatonin as part of our regulatory processes.
But, if you already produce melatonin in your body, why should you take it? And what’s the best way to get a healthy dose of melatonin?
Why Take Melatonin?
Many people are familiar with melatonin as a sleep aid, but it has numerous other potential benefits, which include reduced symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder, and other mental health benefits that come with improved sleep. Melatonin is known to play an important role in immune system function, as well as brain protection. Getting enough sleep is a major benefit on its own. Sleep deprivation can lead to numerous health concerns, and about 70 million Americans suffer from sleep disorders. Correct melatonin use can improve the amount of sleep and deep sleep that you get, which allows your body to repair itself.
As you can see, melatonin is a very helpful regulatory hormone! It’s safe to use and has many benefits. Many people choose to boost their production through supplementation or dietary means. Most supplements contain 5-10 mg of melatonin, but how much is in food? The answer varies from source to source, of course!
Pistachios are a high protein source of melatonin. Pistachios are the best dietary source of melatonin! If you wanted to get about 5 mg of melatonin, you would need to eat about one ounce of pistachios. That’s about 50 shelled nuts, which is a nice snack for most people.
Asparagus has a reputation for being high in melatonin, but actual studies show that asparagus is actually quite low in melatonin. There are only 0.01 nanograms (ng) of melatonin per gram of asparagus! You would need to eat hundreds of pounds of asparagus to get a mere 5 mg of melatonin… So why does it have such a reputation?
The answer is that asparagus is not high in melatonin at all. Instead, it’s high in tryptophan. Tryptophan is an amino acid that the body converts to melatonin. So while asparagus has been shown to improve sleep quality, that doesn’t mean it contains more than a negligible amount of melatonin!
Rice and other grains, like corn, are a known source of melatonin. But not all rice has the same amount of melatonin! Some types of rice, like Thai red rice, can have up to about 250 ng of melatonin per gram of rice— meaning you would need to eat about 705 ounces to get a 5mg boost of melatonin. That’s nearly 44 pounds! And that’s the type of rice with the most melatonin. For more common types of rice, you’d need to eat double that amount.
Pomegranate is another food with a lot of benefits, but not a lot of melatonin. In fact, pomegranate juice actually lowers the amount of melatonin in your bloodstream. Pomegranates are high in antioxidants and magnesium, and it’s their high magnesium content that can help you get to sleep. But if you’re taking melatonin, keep your pomegranate consumption limited to the daytime— drinking it close to bedtime will cancel out the benefits of your melatonin!
Many mushrooms are absolutely packed with melatonin. The winner is the red pine mushroom, with as much as .2 mg of melatonin per gram of mushroom. This means you’d need to eat 25 grams of red pine mushroom caps to get 5 mg of melatonin. That’s less than one ounce! But if you can’t get red pine mushrooms, the common button mushroom also contains melatonin. For 5 mg of melatonin, you would need to eat about 28 ounces of these mushrooms.
Tart cherries are an interesting case of a food that doesn’t have a high melatonin content but still promotes melatonin concentration in the human body. Tart cherries have at best slightly less than 15 ng per gram of melatonin, but they have a naturally-occurring compound called procyanidin B2. This compound makes it easier for the body to access tryptophan and convert it to melatonin, improving sleep and reducing insomnia.
The Bottom Line
Pistachios and red pine mushrooms aside, food really isn’t a great source of melatonin. While lots of foods have very small amounts, or contain tryptophan that your body can convert into melatonin, by and large food is a poor source of this hormone. if you want to actually take melatonin to improve your sleep it’s actually much easier to simply take it as a supplement. That way, you will get enough of a dose to be effective.
You can also improve your sleep by choosing a melatonin supplement that works with other natural compounds for a boosted calming effect. One of the best combinations for improved sleep is melatonin and CBD. The calming effects of CBD coupled with the hormonal signals of melatonin can make it easier to fall asleep and stay asleep. Don’t rely on guesswork or hundreds of pounds of asparagus for your melatonin intake! Instead, choose a pre-dosed supplement like Rest by Vitaldiol, and improve your sleep with ease.