When and how you use this po­tent nat­u­ral sleep aid mat­ters

Better Nutrition - - CONTENTS - BY VERA TWEED

The Right Way to Take Me­la­tonin When it comes to this po­tent nat­u­ral sleep aid, how and when you take it are the keys to suc­cess.

“The main func­tion of me­la­tonin, from a cir­ca­dian per­spec­tive, is to sig­nal the body that it’s night­time.”

I first heard of me­la­tonin in them id-1990s af­ter com­plain­ing to a friend that I wasn’t a morn­ing per­son. “Take me­la­tonin,” she said, as though it were the most ob­vi­ous thing in the world. At the time, a Newsweek cover was tout­ing the sup­ple­ment as a magic sleep bul­let, and prom­i­nent signs in win­dows of health food stores pro­claimed, “We have me­la­tonin.” Ex­cited that I might be­come one of those peo­ple who sa­vors watch­ing the ris­ing sun, I started tak­ing it— but not for long.

I did fall asleep and wake up ear­lier, but af­ter a few days, I was liv­ing in a men­tal fog, some­thing I’d never ex­pe­ri­enced be­fore. When I stopped tak­ing the sup­ple­ment, the fog lifted and I de­cided that sun­rises are over­rated af­ter all.

Fast- for­ward to my in­ter­view with Michael Grand­ner, PhD, sleep ex­pert at the Uni­ver­sity of Ari­zona in Tuc­son, and I un­der­stand what hap­pened in my per­sonal me­la­tonin ex­per­i­ment. With no clue about how to use it, I took too much, and I took it at the wrong time of day.

How It Works

“The body has many diff er­ent 24- hour or daily cy­cles that reg­u­late ev­ery­thing from cel­lu­lar me­tab­o­lism to in­sulin func­tion and hor­mone se­cre­tion,” says Grand­ner. “The main func­tion of me­la­tonin, from a cir­ca­dian per­spec­tive, is to sig­nal the body that it’s night­time.”

Un­like many other sleep aids, me­la­tonin is not a seda­tive. It’s a hor­mone that our bod­ies pro­duce at night. Sup­ple­ments can boost our nat­u­ral lev­els and help get our body clock on track.


“Me­la­tonin isn’t like a drug, where a higher dose is more eff ec­tive,” says Grand­ner. “If any­thing, lower doses tend to be more eff ec­tive.” He rec­om­mends 0.5– 3 mg per day, al­though some peo­ple may benefi t from larger amounts.

Tim­ing is equally im­por­tant. “If you take me­la­tonin as your body is start­ing to nat­u­rally pro­duce it, you can po­ten­tially jump­start the sys­tem and get it to start pro­duc­ing me­la­tonin a lit­tle faster,” Grand­ner says. “Your whole clock is go­ing to shift.” Me­la­tonin gen­er­ally starts to rise about two hours be­fore you go to sleep, al­though the ex­act time varies from per­son to per­son. When tak­ing a me­la­tonin sup­ple­ment:

Start with 0.5 to 3 mg. If you ex­pe­ri­ence side eff ects, such as grog­gi­ness or a headache, re­duce the dose. Take me­la­tonin about two hours be­fore you want to go to sleep. If it doesn’t work as you hoped, try tak­ing it a bit ear­lier or later. If you tend to wake up dur­ing the night, try a sus­taine­drelease me­la­tonin sup­ple­ment. En­hance your own night­time me­la­tonin pro­duc­tion by get­ting morn­ing light, which has a more benefi cial eff ect on your body clock than day­light later in the day. For about two hours be­fore bed­time, stay away from dig­i­tal screens and other bright lights, which sup­press me­la­tonin pro­duc­tion.

Food Sources

You can also in­crease your body’s me­la­tonin lev­els by ad­ding a few key foods to your diet. Mont­morency tart cher­ries are the rich­est food source of me­la­tonin, ac­cord­ing to an analysis of var­i­ous plants at the Uni­ver­sity of Texas Health Sci­ence Cen­ter in San An­to­nio. A Bri­tish study of 20 peo­ple found that drink­ing tart cherry juice sig­nifi cantly raised me­la­tonin lev­els and im­proved sleep, com­pared to a placebo.

At Louisiana State Uni­ver­sity, sci­en­tists found that drink­ing 8 oz. of Mont­morency tart cherry juice

in the morn­ing, and again 1– 2 hours be­fore bed­time, in­creased sleep time by 84 min­utes among peo­ple with in­som­nia. Al­though juices con­tain much smaller amounts of me­la­tonin than sup­ple­ments, they can ex­ert benefi cial eff ects on sleep.

Me­la­tonin is also found in tiny quan­ti­ties in other plant foods, in­clud­ing coff ee, al­though caff eine coun­ter­acts its sleepin­duc­ing eff ects. Fin­nish re­searchers who ex­am­ined how nu­tri­tion aff ects me­la­tonin noted, “It has been demon­strated that some nu­tri­tional fac­tors, such as in­take of veg­eta­bles, caff eine, and some vi­ta­mins and min­er­als, could mod­ify me­la­tonin pro­duc­tion but with less in­ten­sity than light, the most dom­i­nant syn­chro­nizer of me­la­tonin pro­duc­tion.” They iden­tifi ed B vi­ta­mins, zinc, mag­ne­sium, and omega- 3 fats as nu­tri­ents that sup­port nat­u­rally healthy me­la­tonin lev­els.

Tryp­to­phan is a pre­cur­sor to me­la­tonin pro­duc­tion, and is used as a nat­u­ral rem­edy for sleep. Food sources of tryp­to­phan in­clude fi sh, poul­try, eggs, whole grains, pota­toes, ba­nanas, dairy, and legumes.

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