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Foods that Stimulate Melatonin to Induce Sleepiness

Updated on April 6, 2015

Melatonin sleep aids are a popular natural remedy for people suffering from all manner of sleep disorders. Melatonin is a natural chemical produced by our brain and when things are functioning as they should, more is released at night and less during the day.

This ‘timed release’ allows our circadian rhythm (sleep clocks) to help us regulate and maintain a proper sleep schedule. When things are not going as they should, and melatonin levels are low, we may have irregular sleep patterns or have trouble getting to sleep when we should.

Not only does melatonin help us get quality sleep, but it is also a powerful antioxidant, maybe the most powerful, preventing free radical damage throughout the body.

Fortunately, there are several natural remedies and natural foods that contain melatonin, and it does not take a large dose to be effective. In fact, too high a dose could interfere with getting a good night’s sleep.

St. John's Wort
St. John's Wort | Source

Foods Containing Melatonin

The highest concentrations of this chemical are said to be found in St. John’s Wort and Huang-qin. Huang-qin is an important herbal remedy in Chinese herbal medicine, and is known as Baical Skullcap Root, or Scutellaria in English.

Many reports cite its uses as an anti-inflammatory and antioxidant, due to high concentrations of several flavanoids in this plant. However, less evidence shows the presence of melatonin. Some studies suggest it may only be present only in certain species of huang-qin.

St. John’s Wort is a perennial plant that is also an aggressive and invasive weed in open pasture. When eaten by livestock it is toxic, but extracts from this flower are somewhat effective in treating mild depression.

While St. John’s Wort is often used as a mild anti-depressant and cure-all for other afflictions, there is little evidence of the presence of melatonin. In addition, what effects it may have on correcting sleep disorders can be negated if a person takes other medications. This herbal remedy is contraindicated for many anti-depressants and other drugs, so check with a doctor before using it.

More Tryptophan Foods

Some of the foods below are unusual, but they are highest on the list of foods that contain tryptophan. If you can't get your hands on sea lion kidney, don't worry, there are plenty of accessible alternatives!

  • Sea lion kidney (native to Alaska) 2580mg
  • Elk meat (fresh game) 746mg
  • Frozen spinach 690mg
  • Alaskan King crab 607mg
  • Cooked northern lobster 582mg
  • Soy sauce (tamari) 603mg
  • Raw watercress 545mg
  • Turkey 507mg
  • Wild rabbit 504mg
  • Canned tuna fish 493mg
  • Soybean (mature, sprouted) 480mg
  • Raw yellowfin tuna 480mg
  • Chicken breast 458mg
  • Sunflower seeds 451mg (per serving)
  • Tofu, light or firm ~450mg
  • Lean sliced hame 434mg
  • Cooked turnip greens 400mg
  • Mozzarella cheese 399mg
  • Cottage cheese 383mg

This is a small sampling of high tryptophan content foods, experiment with a variety to see what works for you.


There are other examples of herbal remedies like St. John’s Wort and Huang-qin, and while these herbs are praised for everything from helping you sleep to curing a rash, to find real sleepy foods, look for tryptophan.

Tryptophan is the amino acid used to make melatonin and serotonin in the brain, both sleep-inducing chemicals. So which foods contain tryptophan? If turkey was the first word out of your mouth, you are partly right.

Turkey actually falls below chicken, liver, soybeans and tuna for trypophan content levels. However, when combined with the typical high carbohydrate side dishes, the path for receiving tryptophan is cleared, and more gets into the bloodstream.

Other foods that contain tryptophan, and therefore stimulate melatonin production, are salmon, halibut, venison, lamb and shrimp. The lesson to take away from the typical North American Thanksgiving turkey meal however, is to combine these proteins with carbohydrates if you want to get sleepy.

Of course, high levels of carbohydrates stimulate insulin release. If you eat heavy carb meals regularly and don’t burn off these extra glucose stores, you will put on weight quickly. So burn off those extra calories with exercise, another important habit for getting consistent, quality sleep.

As with all things, the right balance is important. Whether you choose to increase you tryptophan levels, exercise levels or just try an herbal melatonin supplement, consult a professional. Knowing how these changes affect your body will help you adjust your routine for maximum benefits and a great night’s sleep.


Another way to ensure you are producing enough melatonin is to work on increasing your seratonin levels. The body converts seratonin to melatonin, and if one is too low, the other will be as well. Although many people with low seratonin levels may sleep a lot, the quality of sleep is generally poor due to low melatonin levels. Make sure your seratonin levels are sufficient by following these steps:

  • Get plenty of light. Sunlight and artificial. Install extra bright bulbs in the winter if necessary.
  • Exercise everyday. Several times a day if possible. At the minimum, do 15-20 minutes of walking once or twice a day. Better yet, do longer training sessions or several high intensity interval sessions throughout the day. However, exercising too close to bedtime is not recommended.
  • Eat wisely. Refined sugars found in processed foods such as bread, white rice, candy, pastries, sodas and so on are only going to increase insulin production and cause you to crash later. The goal is to produce natural, healthy seratonin levels by eating natural, healthy foods.


More Foods Containing Melatonin

Many natural and healthy foods contain melatonin, but in minuscule amounts. Fortunately, the combination of eating healthy to allow for the natural production of seratonin and the melatonin these foods contain will help encourage a regular sleep cycle.

Include these additional melatonin containing foods in your diet as often as possible:

  • Dairy products such as milk, yogurt and eggs
  • Soybeans
  • Peanuts
  • Cherries
  • Bananas
  • Oats (as in oatmeal. Whole Scottish or Irish oats work best.)

Vitamin B5: Foods containing B5, which helps make melatonin, include the suggestions above, as well as:

  • Sweet potatoes
  • Lentils
  • Mushrooms
  • Broccoli
  • Avocados
  • Collard greens
  • Corn

Of course, everyone is different. Start with smart nutrition and exercise during the day, and develop a regular routine at night. With persistence, a good night's sleep will be yours every night.

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    • Free2seethemoon profile image

      Free2seethemoon 5 years ago from Somewhere in the Pacific Ocean

      Sorry to hear that, Cheryl. Hopefully you've found a solution that does help you sleep well. Thanks for commenting.

    • profile image

      cheryl 5 years ago

      It doesn't work in my case. My sleep disorder, so to speak, was brought on by multiple head injuries. Everyone will have something different to say. But really you just need to change your diet.......

    • Free2seethemoon profile image

      Free2seethemoon 5 years ago from Somewhere in the Pacific Ocean

      I appreciate that Talullah! Thanks for stopping by.

    • Free2seethemoon profile image

      Free2seethemoon 5 years ago from Somewhere in the Pacific Ocean

      Excellent! Good luck Angela!

    • Free2seethemoon profile image

      Free2seethemoon 5 years ago from Somewhere in the Pacific Ocean

      Thanks yisenoh!

    • 4wardthinker profile image

      4wardthinker 6 years ago from Sierra Nevada CA

      When I take Melatonin, it keeps me asleep for about 3 hrs. It makes me so tired the next day. I found that Valerian works best for me. I wake up feeling more refreshed.

    • Oscarlites profile image

      Oscar Jones 6 years ago from South Alabama

      yes.. this is right .... I am thinking to write on the herbs I know about soon..

    • Talullah profile image

      Talullah 6 years ago from SW France

      A very useful hub; essential reading for anyone with sleep problems.

    • Angela Brummer profile image

      Angela Brummer 6 years ago from Lincoln, Nebraska

      I do have trouble sleeping at night and will try this for certain!

    • ytsenoh profile image

      Cathy 6 years ago from Louisiana, Idaho, Kauai, Nebraska, South Dakota, Missouri

      This is interesting, especially to help people who have sleeping issues. Thank you.

    • Free2seethemoon profile image

      Free2seethemoon 6 years ago from Somewhere in the Pacific Ocean

      Leaderofmany, I think Thanksgiving outranks chicken overall! It's the combination of all those additional carbohydrate calories that trigger a stronger hormone release. Thanks for your comment!

    • Leaderofmany profile image

      Leaderofmany 6 years ago from Back Home in Indiana

      Very interesting, I didn't know that Chicken outranked Turkey, I guess the Thanksgiving sleepiness is due to full belly.

    • Free2seethemoon profile image

      Free2seethemoon 6 years ago from Somewhere in the Pacific Ocean

      Express10, that sounds like a lot. I've read that an excessive amount can have no effect at all. Maybe less is more? Good luck, and thanks for commenting.

      April, glad it helped. I had a similar experience, right up until I gave into the mashed potatoes, didn't want it to go to waste, y'know! :-) Happy New Year!

    • April Reynolds profile image

      April Reynolds 6 years ago from Arizona

      This was helpful. I did not eat as much carbs this year with my turkey and wasn't as sleepy. Now I understand why. Happy New Year!

    • Express10 profile image

      H C Palting 6 years ago from East Coast

      I've been taking 10mg of melatonin in a 2 layer controlled release tablet and it doesn't seem to do anything for me. My next stop may well be the sleep lab.

    • Free2seethemoon profile image

      Free2seethemoon 6 years ago from Somewhere in the Pacific Ocean

      Senoritaa and PWalker281, thanks for your comments! Actually PWalker, it does not take much to induce sleepiness. Too much can have adverse effects; some of which you obviously know! Thanks again.

    • profile image

      PWalker281 6 years ago

      I have been taking 1 mg of melatonin at night to help me sleep. That doesn't seem like a lot, but more than that and I'm groggy the next day. Interesting to note that there are foods that have higher concentrations of melatonin than turkey has. If I make any resolutions for the new year, it's going to be to exercise more.

      Very well-researched and informative hub. Rated up and useful.

    • Senoritaa profile image

      Rinita Sen 6 years ago

      This is very useful. Thanks for sharing.


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