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Melatonin, I believe, is the chemical in your body that makes you tired and fall asleep.

If someone were having trouble falling asleep at night, in what ways would they be able to increase their melatonin levels in order to fall asleep faster? Are there foods that increase melatonin?

On the other hand, what things should be avoided as they decrease or prevent an increase of melatonin? I believe higher light levels decrease how fast your body produces it, what else affects it?

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Light

Light is a big factor in the circadian rhythm of melatonin production:

Melatonin secretion increases soon after the onset of darkness, peaks in the middle of the night (between 0200 and 0400 h) and gradually falls during the second half of the night. However, the melatonin rhythm can be acutely interrupted by exposure to light[1]

Thus, exposure to bright light should be reduced in the evenings to ensure melatonin production for nighttime.

Melatonin production is wavelength dependent and suppressed by blue light. [2] In one study, people were equipped with googles that excluded short wavelength light, while still being exposed to bright light, which resulted in melatonin production similar to what is produced in dim light. [1]

Nutrition

As for nutrition, melatonin is produced from tryptophan, an essential amino acid. It has been shown that eating tryptophan-rich foods increases melatonin production[4].

but the influence is minor if compared with the power of the light–dark cycle

Foods rich in tryptophan are those rich in protein, because tryptophan is an amino acid:

chocolate, oats, dried dates, milk, yogurt, cottage cheese, red meat, eggs, fish, poultry, sesame, chickpeas, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, spirulina, bananas, and peanuts[5]

Supplements

Melatonin is also available as a supplement, and is used for various conditions to do with sleep (circadian rhythm sleep disorders, delayed sleep phase syndrome, etc)[6] However, for normal sleepers, the effect on both sleep on onset and efficiency appears insignificant in meta-analysis of various studies on the subject[7]

Exercise

Exercise has an effect on melatonin levels. Timing this is important, however; in one study I found (short term, medium number of subjects) exercise in the evenings or at night was more beneficial compared to morning and afternoon[8], in another (short term study, few subjects) this was found for evening, but not for late evening/night exercise [9]

Summary

A combination of tryptophan-rich foods, exposure to bright light throughout the day and dimmed light (or at least avoidance of blue light in the evening), combined with exercise (possibly in the afternoon), probably works best for boosting natural melatonin production.

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    Wikipedia is tricky to use as a reference. Often their information is unsupported by any references, or are based on mis(interpretations/representation) of references. Your wiki article bases its sources of tryptophan in food on two articles, one about cocoa powder's addictive effects on smoking (!) and another links to the general USDA Ag Research Service page. Also, note [3] is based on very small numbers and the effects were (probably) unrelated to diet (the results and conclusions drawn are confusing.) That's just two. :( Thanks. – anongoodnurse Dec 2 '15 at 9:24
  • @anongoodnurse that second citation is how citations to ndb.nal.usda.gov are supposed to look. To me, that looks like a good source for the nutritional data in that table... – YviDe Dec 2 '15 at 9:34
  • That's not the link I was directed to from the Wiki reference. (?) The Wiki link ([22] in section 4) is ars.usda.gov/main/site_main.htm?modecode=80-40-05-25. – anongoodnurse Dec 2 '15 at 9:45
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    @anongoodnurse see ars.usda.gov/Main/docs.htm?docid=6233#reference - that's confusingly how that database is supposed to be referenced. I'll correct the nutrition part later, thanks for the feedback – YviDe Dec 2 '15 at 9:59
  • Are you saying that exposure to bright (not blue) light will increase melatonin? – Aequitas Dec 2 '15 at 11:03

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