While melatonin supplements are found over-the-counter in almost any health food store or pharmacy, there are questions regarding long-term supplementation.
Some experts report that if one uses melatonin supplements for a long period of time, the body will stop both producing and responding to its own melatonin—but there is little science to back this up.
While there have been studies done on long-term melatonin supplementation, there is no solid evidence that suggests melatonin production will decline after long-term use by healthy people. In fact, the reason why melatonin is an over-the-counter supplement is because there have been so many studies touting its safety. (8)
There is, however, science suggesting that these long-term side effects of melatonin do not exist. In one meta-analysis of more than 16,000 subjects from 19 studies, melatonin was not shown to lose its effectiveness with continued use. (1)
While supplementation is very safe for short-term circadian sleep resetting and jet lag, establishing your needs and the correct dosage is very important. Melatonin supplements sometimes come in large dosages, as high as 10mg per pill, which should be avoided until you know your personal needs.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (M.I.T.) studies by Dr. Richard Wurtman suggest that an effective dose of melatonin could be as low as 0.3mg to 1mg, suggesting that only a very small amount of melatonin may be needed to reset our circadian clocks. That said, there are many studies linking numerous health benefits of melatonin supplementation at higher dosages, which I will be addressing in future articles.
Before considering melatonin supplementation, I suggest getting your melatonin levels tested. Then, if your levels are low, try supporting your melatonin levels with melatonin-rich foods—see the list below.
Melatonin in Food
Since melatonin is one of the oldest molecules on the planet and every life form is dependent on the light/dark cycles, it is not surprising that melatonin is found in almost every plant. Some plants actually have quite a bit of melatonin and they can be used very successfully to absorb it (instead of resorting to a supplement).
In a study at M.I.T., researchers discovered that tart cherry juice was an effective sleep tonic. In a previous study, while measuring the effects of tart cherry juice for its anti-inflammatory benefits as a sports recovery drink, some of the subjects reported better sleep. Further studies revealed that the tart cherries were very high in botanical melatonin. (2, 3)
One study measured two groups of older men. One group received tart cherries and the other group received a placebo. The tart cherry juice group fell asleep faster and woke up less during the night compared to the placebo group. (2)
To follow up that study, researchers measured melatonin levels after drinking the tart cherry juice and, once again, saw improvements in sleep time, quality, and efficiency that were very likely due to a boost in melatonin levels. Since this study was published, tart cherries have become quite famous for boosting melatonin and sleep quality, but there are many additional foods to consider to amp up your melatonin levels naturally! (4)
According to Dr. Michael Greger, walnuts, flaxseeds, and tomatoes are high in melatonin. Fenugreek and mustard seeds, as well as raspberries and almonds are also very high, but the highest of all are goji berries or lycium berries. (5)
Foods With Melatonin
|Tart (sour) cherry juice concentrate||17,535|
|Tart (sour) cherries||1,350|
|Underripe banana (pulp)||31.40|
|St. John’s wort||19.61|
|Ripe banana (pulp)||18.50|
|Concord grapes (skin)||3.24|
|Red grapes (pulp)||2.27|
|Red grapes (whole)||1.94|
|Concord grapes (pulp)||1.92|
|Concord grapes (whole)||1.71|
|Red grapes (skin)||1.42|
In general, diets rich in vegetables, fruits, and grain products contain considerable levels of dietary melatonin. Vitamins and minerals from these foods contribute to the synthesis of endogenous melatonin.
Coffee and Melatonin
The studies on coffee are mixed. Coffee is a stimulant from the effects of the caffeine, and melatonin is the body’s sleep hormone. Logic would tell you that caffeine will inhibit melatonin production—and it does. Many of the constituents in coffee actually help boost melatonin levels by as much as 32 percent, but some studies suggest that at night the caffeine will block melatonin production—neutralizing the naturally-occurring melatonin in coffee. (7)
Decaffeinated coffee has been shown to boost melatonin levels, so that may be a way to go if you have to have your coffee.
>> Learn more about the importance of optimal nocturnal melatonin secretion in my article and video here.
Check out more of my melatonin articles, videos and podcasts here.
Author: Dr. John Douillard
Image: Wikimedia Commons
Editor: Leah Sugerman
Supervising Editor 1: Nicole Cameron