Boost Your Melatonin and Lower Your Risk of Weight Gain

Is the sleep hormone your new weapon against weight gain?

Photo: Young woman sleeping in a comfortable white bed

New research shows yet another hormone may be a weight-loss workhorse that starts its shift when you hit the hay. Studies have found that melatonin, a hormone naturally produced by your body in the dark to regulate sleep-wake cycles, stimulates the production of beige fat. Beige and brown fat burn calories to generate heat, as opposed to storing them and contributing to obesity and disease like white fat does, explains Ahmad Agil, PhD, lead researcher of the study. While more research is needed on melatonin’s role in metabolism, the body of research demonstrating sleep’s importance for weight loss is only growing.

While you are sleeping, you’re not only not eating. Your body is also regulating the metabolic hormones ghrelin and leptin, which control your hunger and fullness cues to prevent you from overeating.

“When it comes to weight loss, sleep is important for a variety of reasons,” says Laura Georgy, RD, a Chicago-based nutrition expert. “And melatonin’s role in weight loss through beige fat-cell production may be another way we wage war on weight gain while we sleep.”

Make the most of melatonin
You can boost your body’s production of melatonin by adhering to a strict "lights out" policy. Close your shades and turn off all lights, TVs, and even glowing phones and clocks before you go to bed. Then don’t check your phone or turn on any lights—including the one in the bathroom—till morning. If you regularly experience insomnia, consult with your healthcare professional.

You can also boost your body’s beige-fat building potential and sleep a little more soundly by adding more melatonin-rich foods into your diet. Research shows tart cherries are one of the best sources of melatonin. In a 2012 study, subjects slept longer and more soundly after drinking tart cherry juice.

But you can also tailor your diet to boost your body’s production of the hormone. “Go straight to the source by eating foods containing the essential amino acid tryptophan,” Georgy says. “Our body uses L-tryptophan to aid in the production of the neurotransmitter serotonin, which can then be converted into melatonin. Since the body cannot produce tryptophan, we must rely on food to meet our needs.” Here are 10 foods to boost your tryptophan and melatonin levels naturally.

  1. Cherries: Buy them frozen and unsweetened to add to oatmeal or yogurt for breakfast.
  2. 100% cherry juice: Blend it into a smoothie.
  3. Edamame: Steam it and sprinkle it over a salad.
  4. Mustard: Whisk it into a salad dressing.
  5. Nuts and seeds: Snack on pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, walnuts, or almonds.
  6. Cardamom: Sip cardamom-rich chai tea.
  7. Chicken and turkey: Sauté a skinless chicken breast or grill a turkey burger for dinner.
  8. Shrimp: Toss a few into a pasta.
  9. Black beans: Fold them into enchiladas or burritos.
  10. Rice: Serve stir-fry vegetables on a bed of white or brown rice.