Q: I can’t sleep, will melatonin help?
A: Melatonin is a natural hormone that acts as an antioxidant. Early in life, the body produces an abundant supply, but as we age, production steadily declines.

Melatonin is the internal sleep facilitator in humans. It is naturally produced by the pineal gland, a cone-shaped structure in the brain. Melatonin supplements have demonstrated that it can make some people fall asleep more quickly. However, melatonin has not been proven to increase total time or quality of sleep and the effects of long-term use are unknown. If you are considering taking melatonin supplements to help improve quality of sleep, talk with your doctor to determine the cause of sleeplessness and discuss the risk factors for taking melatonin.

Maintaining your Melatonin Level Naturally

As darkness falls at the end of each day, melatonin production rises. In the morning, when daylight hits the retina, neural impulses cause a decrease in production of melatonin. Light and darkness are the primary factors that set the rhythms of melatonin production. However, they are not the only factors involved. Daily routines can strengthen the rhythm of melatonin production. Below are a few simple ways to help your body maintain high levels of melatonin.

Simple ways to maintain high levels of melatonin:

  • Eat regular meals.
    • The rhythm of melatonin production is strengthened by regular daily routines.
    • Keep your mealtimes as regular as possible to keep your body in sync with the rhythms of the day.
  • Keep your diet light at night.
    • When melatonin production begins after nightfall, the digestive process is slowed.
    • Any heavy foods eaten close to bedtime may lead to digestive problems, which can make it difficult to sleep.
  • Avoid stimulants
    • Stimulants such as coffee, tea, soft drinks, and caffeine-containing medications can interfere with melatonin production and affect your sleep. Do not consume these stimulants at least 4-5 hours before going to sleep.
  • Avoid exercising at night.
    • Vigorous activity delays melatonin secretion.
    • If you exercise in the morning, you will reinforce healthful sleeping habits that lead to regular melatonin production.