We know how powerful melatonin is as it can help with fat-loss, building muscle, protecting the brain, and makes us look younger. So, how can you increase your levels of melatonin naturally? Let’s take a look.
- Boost early morning and total daylight exposure for more melatonin
- Be careful around EMFs as they can lower melatonin levels
- Eat more foods that either contain or boost melatonin
- Switch away from tap water with fluoride as it lowers melatonin
- Exercising improves how melatonin works in the body
- Red light therapy / LLLT might increase melatonin levels
- Wear Blue-Blocking Glasses Or Avoid All Unnatural Lighting Sources After Sunset
- What Are The Health Benefits of Melatonin
Boost early morning and total daylight exposure for more melatonin
If you’ve ever gone camping, boating, or spent the whole day outside on the beach—you’ve no doubt experienced how fast and deeply you fall asleep. That’s due to a few reasons, but a big one is bright light exposure.
Melatonin is synthesized from precursor hormones like tryptophan and serotonin. So increasing its precursors is a great way of ensuring you’ve got enough building blocks for melatonin.
Bright light can synthesize serotonin. (Serotonin also helps with depression—perhaps one contributor to the mental health crisis is the fact that we spend 90% of our day indoors.)
In this 1999 study, even placing a bright lamp next to you was enough to boost melatonin levels.
Still, the best source is real sunshine. The sun provides health-boosting infrared rays and a full spectrum of light that our body was normally in tune with throughout history.
This fix is even more important as you continue to age. In a 2014 review titled Protecting the Melatonin Rhythm through Circadian Healthy Light Exposure, researchers shared this graph of how a young ten-year-old can see the light compared to older folks. This impacts melatonin production.
Now, I’m no statistician, but it looks like those who are around 50 might need to spend twice as much time outdoors as a ten-year-old to get the same amount of bright light exposure through their eyes.
How to put this into action:
- Go outside for a quick walk immediately after waking up or eat breakfast outside on the porch/balcony.
- Go outside for a quick walk at lunchtime.
- Go outside for a quick walk right after work.
- It doesn’t need to take a long time. Even 3–5 minutes of bright exposure at each interval can do wonders.
- Not only will this help with melatonin and your overall health, but bright light also helps to fight off depression too and can keep your mental health sharp.
Be careful around EMFs as they can lower melatonin levels
The easiest way is to unplug your Wi-Fi at night and charge your phone outside your bedroom. The full impact of Wi-Fi and other electromagnetic fields (EMFs) is still being debated. There are some hints that it may not be healthy for us, but the exact dose is still being determined. (There’s evidence in rats that Wi-Fi damages testicles, causes DNA damage, increases blood sugar levels, and oxidative stress—a review.)
In our case, we’ll be looking at two studies.
In a 2006 study, 55 people were exposed to 30 minutes of mobile phone emissions. Researchers found that those exposed have significantly less melatonin at bedtime and said that some people were more affected than others.
A 2013 article published in the Radiation Protection Dosimetry stated:
“Melatonin is a natural hormone produced by pineal gland activity in the brain that regulates the body’s sleep-wake cycle. How man-made EMFs may influence the pineal gland is still unsolved. The pineal gland is likely to sense EMFs as light but, as a consequence, may decrease the melatonin production.”
After looking at the data, the author stated:
“The results show the significance of disruption of melatonin due to exposure to weak EMFs, which may possibly lead to long-term health effects in humans.”
How to put this into action:
- Unplug your router every night.
- Use a router that has a button or programmable settings that let you turn it off at a certain time each night. My NetGear Nighthawk router does this.
- Buy an electrical timer plug like this that will automatically shut off and restore power to the router.
Eat more foods that either contain or boost melatonin
While most melatonin will come from bright light, eating it can be a good source. In a 2005 study, researchers fed rats walnuts that have melatonin in them and found that their blood levels of melatonin were increased.
In a 2013 study, researchers fed juice with orange, pineapple, or banana to volunteers. They over 4x’d their measurable melatonin levels two hours after drinking it.
The highest levels of melatonin-containing foods are nuts, seeds, milk, and medical herbs, but there can be a huge variance based on types. (Milk had over 10x higher levels of melatonin at night, likely to help the baby go to sleep, 2014 study)
Good food sources of melatonin (as per 2017 review):
- Milk and eggs
- Wheat, barley, oats, and some rice
- Grape skins, tart cherries, strawberries
- Tomatoes, peppers, mushrooms
- Legumes and seeds (Pistachios, walnuts, etc.)
- Coffee and wine
Switch away from tap water with fluoride as it lowers melatonin
In a study from December 2019, researchers were studying how fluoridated water impacted sleep and related things like melatonin production. They write:
“In 2006, a National Research Council report concluded that fluoride is likely to affect pineal gland function and cause decreased melatonin production, which could contribute to a variety of effects in humans.”
“We found that each 0.52 mg_L increase in household tap water fluoride concentration was associated with a 1.97 times higher likelihood of adolescents reporting having experienced symptoms suggestive of sleep apnea at least once per week. This remained significant after stringent corrections for multiple comparisons.
Specifically, higher water fluoride concentrations were associated with higher odds of participants reporting snorting, gasping or stopping breathing while sleeping at night. This suggests that fluoride exposure at population-relevant levels may be a risk factor for sleep disturbances; however, additional studies are needed to explore this possibility, given the scarcity of data on this topic.”
For whatever reason, fluoride seems to build up in the pineal gland, which makes melatonin. So it’d be best to drink spring water or some other type of fluoride-free water. (Springwater has lots of important minerals like magnesium, etc.)
Exercising improves how melatonin works in the body
Tryptophan, serotonin, and melatonin are all related (image source):
So, boosting tryptophan may be another way of influencing melatonin. When you exercise, you deplete some amino acids, and it elevates serotonin and tryptophan (review) (Exercise is well known to work as well as anti-depressants.)
In a 2012 review, researchers discussed the complex relationship between exercise and melatonin. For example, is melatonin only elevated to deal with the stress of exercise? While more research needs to be done to understand how exactly they work together, ultimately, they concluded it was a good change:
“It is clear that the exercise–melatonin interplay may have a favourable influence over many systems in the body.”
How to put this into action:
Make it part of your day to do some sort of exercise. We recommend doing some sort of brisk walk outside daily (fast and consistent pace) and working in some resistance training a few times a week. If you’d like help with this, check out our programs.
Red light therapy / LLLT might increase melatonin levels
The wavelengths these panels emit are contained within the bright light from the sun, but red light therapy can be used to overdose on specific wavelengths to fix a number of issues from psoriasis, acne, erectile dysfunction, balding, and can even increase circulating levels of magnesium and vitamin D through unknown mechanisms.
In a 2012 study, elite female basketball players were given 30 minutes of full-body red light treatment every night for two weeks, and their melatonin levels nearly doubled.
How to put this into action:
Red light therapy is mainly red light and near-infrared rays.
- A natural and free source is to go outside early in the morning and late at night to get the most rays to UV ratio. So, something like 6–9 am and 4–6 pm.
- You can buy a red-light therapy panel and follow their instructions. They are an investment. At the time of writing this, the most popular (and expensive) one is Joovv. There are other options that are more comprehensive that use more wavelengths. Search our site to see the latest on red-light therapy.
- You might be able to get most of the benefits (and perhaps more?) from a near-infrared heat bulb like the Philips 250w Infrared Heat Bulb ($10–15 per bulb.) It contains the wavelengths of a red light therapy panel, but it also contains more wavelengths in the near-infrared spectrum—giving off more heat stress.
Wear Blue-Blocking Glasses Or Avoid All Unnatural Lighting Sources After Sunset
Once the sun sets, and the body is in darkness, it will begin producing melatonin. But the problem is that today’s artificial lighting stops and surpasses natural melatonin production.
In a 2001 study, researchers found that different colours of light in the room radically affected people’s natural melatonin production by as high as 81%. Blue, cyan, and green light negatively affected people’s melatonin the most. Yellow light affected melatonin a little bit, and red light did not seem to affect melatonin much at all.
Let’s say it’s winter in the North, and it becomes dark at 5 pm. Most people turn on bright lights throughout the house and watch a bright 4K television that covers the screen. Around 11 pm, they stumble down the hall and turn on their bright bathroom light and brush their teeth. In that example, all of those light sources are emitting lots of blue and green light, and our hero has theoretically lost over 6 hours of melatonin production to restore and become stronger, healthier, and more anti-fragile for the next day.
The simplest solution would be to stop using any electrical lighting the moment the sun has set. (My wife and I did this and only lived by candle-light as an experiment, see this article.)
This idea is so incompatible with today’s modern life it’s laughable. No television, movies, or video games?
So the goal with blue-blocking glasses is preventing blue (and green) light from getting to your eyes to allow for natural melatonin production allowing for maximal health and a pleasant wake-up experience in the morning.
I was skeptical for a while because we know that skin has the ability to sense light (and beyond, it can protect itself from UV and feel infrared heat, for example.) Why would just protecting our eyes help while leaving our skin exposed?
But there are numerous studies showing that blue-blocking glasses do actually work.
Evidence that blue-blocking glasses work
In a 2018 study, researchers took first-year college students with sleep problems and gave them blue blockers.
those wearing amber glasses first tended to sleep longer and have fewer awakenings at night than those wearing blue lenses
Not only did they get better sleep, but their mood also improved as well. And all those benefits disappeared once researchers switched out their amber, blue-blocking lenses for blue coloured lenses (making everything blue.)
In another 2018 study, researchers looked at people who were either doing endurance or weight-lifting training and blue light exposure at night. One group got amber lenses, and the other got clear lenses as the control. All of them had moderate to good sleep already. They put the glasses on 3 hours before bed.
In as little as nine days of using them, researchers found:
Results indicate that blocking short-wavelength light in the evening, as compared to habitual light exposure, significantly shortened subjective sleep onset latency, improved sleep quality, and increased alertness the following morning.
In a third 2018 study, researchers compared using blue blockers at night versus opening the blinds early in the morning. Researchers measured their melatonin levels and found:
We found that a decrease in evening blue light exposure led to an advance in melatonin and sleep onset on workdays. Increased morning light exposure advanced neither melatonin secretion nor sleep timing.
…our findings show that controlling light exposure at home can be effective in advancing melatonin secretion and sleep…”
And in a 2009 study, one group wore yellow-tinted glasses while another wore true blue-blocking glasses that were amber. Researchers found:
At the end of the study, the amber lens group experienced significant improvement in sleep quality relative to the control group… Mood also improved significantly relative to controls.
This 2009 study also illustrated an important fact—it might take a longer time for the blue-blockers to work for some people. It took nearly three weeks for the averages to beat the control.
There are many more studies related to reducing artificial, blue light at night for improved health that we won’t cover today. A few more for those interested:
- 2009: Nighttime use of special spectacles or light bulbs that block blue light may reduce the risk of cancer.
- 2016: Wearing blue-light-blocking glasses in the evening advances circadian rhythms in the patients with delayed sleep phase disorder: An open-label trial.
- 2017: Blocking nocturnal blue light for insomnia: A randomized controlled trial.
Are there any side effects?
So far, none seem to be known. That doesn’t mean there aren’t any. Perhaps the slight pressure of glasses harms our faces over thirty years, maybe the slight change in magnification from the lenses isn’t good for our eyesight, perhaps seeing brightness but with certain colours cut off isn’t good for our rods and cones. Who knows. But we do have a good grasp of the benefits they have on sleep and melatonin in today’s world of artificial light at night.
What Are The Health Benefits of Melatonin
Melatonin is most well-known as being a drug used for jet-lag or as a sleep aid. But it’s a powerful hormone our body produces naturally and it does much, much more than just help you sleep. The benefits of melatonin include that it:
- anti-obesity effects like telling fat to be burnt rather than stored, regulating cytokines, ( 2013 study )
- protects us from cancer, heart disease, and diabetes ( 2017 study , 2017 review)
- lowers blood pressure (2006 study, 2015 study)
- improves your brain (neuroprotection) (2016 study, 2016 study, 2016 study)
- protects us from viral transmission (2014 study, 2017 review)
- is a powerful antioxidant—even more powerful than vitamin C or beta-carotene ( 2015 study , study )
- might reduce our appetite—lowering cravings for late-night snacking ( study )
- helps with fertility and having a healthy pregnancy ( 2014 review )
- makes you look better by looking younger and more youthful ( study , study )
- can help you build muscle through better tissue repair and activating growth factor synthesis ( study )