While getting enough sleep is essential for health, many people struggle to get the amount that they need. Insomnia is a key reason, one that can be frustrating and difficult to solve. Other people can sleep eventually, but find the process of falling asleep very difficult. This is why melatonin rich foods are so important.
Melatonin itself is produced in the pineal gland. It plays countless roles in our bodies and could offer a broad array of benefits, such as improving heart health, protecting the brain, and improving mood. But, melatonin is most famous for its role in sleep. The compound can help to regulate human rhythms, improve sleep quality, and perhaps make it easier to stay asleep.
This is why many of the foods that help you sleep do contain some melatonin. The foods have other advantages too. Many are high in nutrients, antioxidants, and other important compounds. Eating nutrient-rich whole foods regularly is an important way to improve your health – and doing so does help with your sleep.
At one point, melatonin was just thought to be produced in animals. Thankfully, the compounds have now been identified in plants too, so vegans and vegetarians don’t need to worry.
As with many nutrients, the melatonin content of foods can vary dramatically. Different cultivars of the same plant species, for example, may have notably different levels of melatonin. The levels can even vary from one animal or plant to the next, based on individual characteristics.
Still, there’s enough information out there to give us a sense of which foods tend to be melatonin rich. Focusing on these could help you to sleep better and improve your body’s natural rhythms.
Table of Contents
Melatonin Rich Foods
- Tart Cherries
- Pistachio Nuts
- Mustard Seeds
- Sprouted Soybeans
- Kidney Beans
- Green Beans
Eggs are the logical place to begin this list, as they’re such a powerful source of nutrients. Where else can you get so many different compounds in such a small and convenient package? Eggs also happen to taste great, which is another serious advantage.
In fact, eggs are one of the best dietary sources of melatonin.
They have other advantages for sleep too. One is that eggs contain a decent amount of tryptophan. Tryptophan is an amino acid that has been linked to sleep and improved mood. Eating foods rich in tryptophan may help you to stay asleep for longer.
The protein content of eggs can be helpful too. While you don’t want to go to sleep on a full stomach, being hungry can be even worse. Having a little protein before you sleep ensures that your body has the energy that it needs and that you don’t wake up hungry.
A final advantage is that eggs are easy. You can prepare them in countless ways, many of which don’t take much effort at all.
Fish is the other notable animal-based source of melatonin and you get more melatonin from fish than you do from meat. Fish is also widely known for health benefits, as it is rich in omega 3 fatty acids and may help to improve cognition.
Fish is another food that provides tryptophan too. Tuna and halibut are the most powerful choices for tryptophan, although salmon is appealing too. You also get some magnesium from fish, which is the most notable mineral for promoting sleep.
Simply having fish in your diet regularly should help to improve your sleep over time. You could also have fish as a light snack before bed. Canned tuna, canned salmon, or smoked salmon would be some of the easiest choices here, as you don’t need to cook anything.
Animals produce melatonin, so most types of meat will provide you with some of the compound. This includes poultry and red meat. Pork, beef, and chicken all appear to be similar in their melatonin content, while lamb contains less.
However, levels of melatonin in meat haven’t been studied at depth, so there’s much that we don’t know. This means that you can choose the meat that you’re interested in, rather than worrying about the richest sources of melatonin.
That being said, poultry may be the best choice for eating in the evening to improve your sleep. Poultry tends to be relatively lean and is a good source of tryptophan.
Many people turn to sliced chicken breast or sliced turkey breast as part of an evening snack. This is much better than having a heavy meal and still gives you the nutrients that you need.
It shouldn't be surprising that milk contains melatonin. The type of milk is likely to influence the amount of melatonin present, as is the diet that the cows ate.
Interestingly, there is a circadian rhythm to the amount of melatonin in milk. This can mean that cows milked at night may have much higher melatonin levels than cows milked in the day. Of course, this information isn’t much help unless you are getting milk fresh from the farm and know when the cows were milked.
Milk contains tryptophan and calcium too, both of which are linked to sleep. Calcium is important because it plays a role in melatonin production. So, even if the type of milk you're drinking ends up being relatively low in melatonin, you're still getting benefits.
Malted milk is thought to be particularly good for promoting sleep, although the reasons for that effect aren’t entirely clear. You can also try warming your milk up. Whether malted or not, warm milk is a classic evening drink to promote sleep.
Grapes are interesting for melatonin content because some varieties are notable sources of melatonin, while other varieties contain almost none of the compound. But, you won't generally know whether the grapes you're eating contain much melatonin or not.
The dramatic differences in melatonin content suggest that it's important to not stress about melatonin too much. If you're eating melatonin rich foods regularly, then you're probably getting a decent amount of the compound in your diet. Trying to optimize your melatonin intake would be an unrealistic and stressful goal.
Wine too tends to contain melatonin. This effect isn’t just because of the melatonin in the grapes. Some melatonin is also synthesized during the fermentation process.
These aren't the sweet cherries that you buy from the grocery store and eat as snacks. These ones are sour instead. There are multiple tart cherry varieties to choose from, with the Montmorency cherry being the most popular.
Tart cherries have been making headlines for their potential health benefits, partly because they’re rich in antioxidants and powerful plant-based compounds. They also contain more melatonin than most other fruits.
Tart cherries aren’t nearly as popular as their sweet cousins, so they can be a little more difficult to find. Thankfully, you can buy tart cherries online, which is perfect if your local store doesn’t stock them.
You don’t need to rely on fresh cherries anyway. Tart cherry juice is popular too. This can be easier to find and is a concentrated source of the compounds from the cherries. There have even been studies that highlight the link between tart cherry juice and improved sleep.
Rice isn’t normally considered a food that promotes sleep, yet it is surprisingly high in melatonin. The type of rice makes a large difference here and white rice tends to be lower in melatonin than most other types.
Pigmented rice, on the other hand, tends to contain high amounts of melatonin, with red rice offering more melatonin than any other type. Red rice has other benefits too, as it is rich in antioxidants and also contains anthocyanins.
Pistachio nuts are an easy choice for melatonin, as you can simply eat them as a snack. They’re also much higher in melatonin than any other type of nut.
Pistachios offer the same benefits as other types of nuts, which includes being a good source of protein and providing a variety of vitamins and minerals. The main limitation is that pistachio nuts tend to be more expensive than other types of nuts.
Walnuts are the second type of nut that you can look to for melatonin. Their main advantage is that they’re much cheaper than pistachios. Besides, walnuts have been linked to a variety of health benefits, including the potential to improve cognition.
The problem is that the melatonin content in walnuts is many times less than that of pistachios. So, while you’ll still get some melatonin from walnuts, pistachio nuts are always going to be a much better choice.
Wheat can contain melatonin, so you’ll see the compound crop up in many wheat-based products, including bread. While bread isn’t a good choice for anyone who is gluten intolerant, it is a practical choice for other people. After all, bread tends to be inexpensive, is easy to use, and is something that many of us already eat regularly.
Interestingly, breadcrumbs tend to have a higher amount of melatonin than the crust of bread.
Bread does have its limitations, as it doesn’t contain as much melatonin as some other foods and is high in carbs. If you’re going to rely on bread regularly, try to look for the more nutritious options, including whole grain bread. Ideally, you should be looking for bread where some of the grains are kept intact, rather than pulverized to make flour.
We mentioned grapes and tart cherries earlier. Strawberries are a third type of fruit that is notable for melatonin levels.
As a type of berry, strawberries are also a powerful source of antioxidants and contain important pigment compounds called anthocyanins. These are a type of polyphenol that you want to be getting into your diet regularly.
Other types of fruit contain melatonin as well, but at a much lower level. Tart cherries, grapes, and strawberries remain your best choices if you want melatonin from fruit.
Oats are often recommended to people who are trying to lose weight or improve their health in other ways. It’s easy to see why too, as oats contain many important compounds, are inexpensive, and tend to be satisfying.
Making oatmeal for breakfast remains one of the most common ways to use oats. Of course, there are plenty of other options too. You’ll often see oats used as ingredients in baking or even as part of a savory meal.
Barley is another cereal crop. It tends to contain less melatonin than wheat and oats, but the amounts are still decent enough. Like other cereal crops, barley happens to be a good source of fiber, vitamins, and minerals.
It also contains beta-glucan. This is a type of fiber that acts as a prebiotic. It’s been linked to improved gut health and may help to decrease cholesterol levels.
Most vegetables contain some melatonin, although the amounts differ widely. Capsicums (also called peppers) are one of the most widely studied choices and tend to be high in melatonin content.
There are multiple types of capsicum to choose from, including red, yellow, orange, and green. Each type has its own balance of nutrients and plant-based compounds. The flavors are different too. For example, red pepper tends to be somewhat sweet, while green pepper has a much sharper flavor.
Tomatoes offer melatonin too. They’re also notable for their lycopene content. Lycopene is a relatively uncommon pigment molecule that acts as an antioxidant.
Besides that, tomatoes taste good and they’re easy to use. You can slice them for sandwiches, chop them for salads, or use them as part of some type of wrap. Then there are all the meals that use fresh tomatoes as an ingredient.
You’ll get some of the same benefits from tomato-based products, such as canned tomatoes, tomato paste, and sundried tomatoes. Less is known about the melatonin content of these products, but they’re still worth using simply for the nutrients that they offer.
Legumes and seeds both tend to be sources of melatonin. The melatonin content is often higher when the seed has been germinated. This highlights the advantage of sprouting seeds before you use them.
Mustard seeds stand out among the various types of seeds. White mustard seeds tend to contain more melatonin than black mustard seeds, although both types remain good choices.
Soybeans are an interesting example of how melatonin content can change with germination. One study found that the amount of melatonin was around 400% higher in sprouted soybeans compared to raw ones.
Sprouted soybeans aren’t commonly used when making soy products, so foods like tofu, soy milk, and soy flour are likely to be relatively low in melatonin content.
Lentils are a useful little legume. They don’t need as much prep work as beans and are fast to cook too. Their melatonin content is notable, especially when they have been sprouted.
Sprouting lentils can be beneficial too, as the process neutralizes some of the phytic acid that is present. By doing so, you’re increasing the amount of beneficial compounds that your body can absorb.
While you’ll probably find some melatonin in most types of beans, kidney beans are an especially good choice. They also happen to be a popular type of bean that is easy to find.
Plus, countless recipes use kidney beans as a key ingredient. Soaking the beans before you use them is often recommended. This can be time-consuming but is well worth the effort.
You can also consider green beans. The melatonin content of these beans is similar to kidney beans, but green beans are used differently. You’re generally cooking them fresh and they make a delicious side to many different meals.
Green beans are generally seen as a healthy and delicious addition to the diet. However, like most legumes, they do contain some less appealing compounds, including lectins and phytic acid. Cooking the beans helps to reduce these compounds and improve your ability to digest the nutrients.
Mushrooms are often overlooked as a source of melatonin. This is a shame, as cooked mushrooms make an easy snack at night. Not only do mushrooms contain many important nutrients, but they’re relatively low in calories and protein.
These features could be important if you only want to eat something light before bed.
While coffee isn’t a food, it’s worth mentioning, as it’s such an unexpected source of melatonin. Coffee beans naturally contain a high amount of melatonin. The process of roasting coffee beans increases the amount of melatonin even further.
Of course, the melatonin content of coffee isn’t enough to make it a good choice at night. The caffeine in coffee tends to have an energizing effect, so coffee will keep you awake, rather than helping you to sleep.