You’ve probably heard about melatonin, a hormone your body produces at night to help you get your beauty sleep. But did you know melatonin might be linked to weight loss? That’s right: Scientists are finding that melatonin, also known as the “sleep hormone,” is intricately connected to metabolism and weight loss, and that it plays a role in other important body processes as well.1
Read on as we discuss how melatonin works in the body — and the many ways it affects your metabolism, sleep and natural body rhythms. We’ll also look at how you can optimize your own production of this important hormone to help you along your journey to lose weight.
How Melatonin Works in Your Body
1. It’s intricately linked to circadian rhythms.
According to the National Sleep Foundation,2 melatonin is produced and released in a daily circadian rhythm — the natural 24-hour cycle of light and darkness that helps to regulate the sleep-wake cycle that has been linked to weight loss. The gland in your brain that controls the production and release of melatonin is activated around sundown, when it begins to release the hormone into the bloodstream, helping to prepare your body for sleep. Melatonin levels rise sharply at around 9 p.m. and stay elevated for approximately 12 hours, until levels begin to drop to barely detectable daytime levels.
2. It promotes sleep.
Naturally secreted by your pineal gland, melatonin helps facilitate sleep. This is important for a number of health reasons, including that studies have found a link between length and quality of sleep and weight loss.3 What’s more, researchers have found that even partial sleep deprivation, if chronic, can increase the risk of obesity and diabetes.4
3. It may boost the production of a good type of body fat.
Although more research is needed, initial studies on animals5 have shown that melatonin increases the amount of beige fat — sometimes referred to as brown fat — in the body. This type of fat helps to burn calories instead of storing them, unlike the more dangerous white fat (usually found around the abdominal region).6 The researchers found that melatonin does this by inducing the “browning” of white fat, actually transforming it into the healthier, fat-burning type.
4. Melatonin may support weight loss.
In a small study7 of postmenopausal women, researchers found that subjects who took a daily melatonin supplement experienced weight loss, along with an improvement in sleep quality, after 24 weeks. The researchers state that melatonin secretion begins to decline with age, primarily affecting postmenopausal women — which may help explain the tendency to gain weight after menopause.
Research8 shows that suppression of melatonin — often brought on by night-time light — can cause significant shifts in the circadian rhythm. Irregular circadian rhythms are linked to a range of health problems, including depression, diabetes, obesity and sleep disorders.9 So, moderating melatonin better can help you lose weight.
5. It helps prevent insulin resistance.
According to research,10 melatonin is at least partly responsible for regulating normal metabolic processes related to the action of insulin. If melatonin production is reduced, the researchers say, insulin resistance and glucose intolerance can result. Both of these conditions are strongly linked to obesity.
How to Boost Melatonin Naturally
Melatonin plays a vital role in so many different body processes — so how can you naturally optimize your melatonin levels without the help of sleep aids? Here are a few ways you can boost the production of this beneficial hormone and potentially your health and weight loss along the way.
Avoid light when sleeping.
Melatonin is only produced in a relatively dark environment; sunlight and indoor lighting prevent its release.11 Make sure you sleep in a comfortable, dark room, and protect yourself from outside light, such as bright porch lights. Also, try to avoid screen time — whether TV, computer or phone — for at least an hour before bed, as the blue light these devices emit can dramatically affect melatonin production and it’s release.12 Read these other sleep hygiene tips to get a better night’s sleep tonight and avoid daytime drowsiness tomorrow.
Research from the American Academy of Sleep Medicine13 also shows that exposure to light during sleep may increase insulin resistance. In fact, the researchers found that just one night of light exposure had an adverse effect on measures of insulin resistance. While the researchers state that the impact they witnessed is “acute,” they say more research is needed to determine whether chronic exposure to light during sleep has long-term effects on metabolic function.
Get bright light early in the day.
Get out into the sunlight in the morning — or, if you are unable to get outside, seek out a bright indoor light. Research14 shows that exposure to bright light early in the day causes melatonin to be produced earlier in the evening — and that sleep comes more easily.
Get regular exercise.
Researchers15 have found that just one hour of moderate exercise “contributed significantly” to the amount of melatonin produced at night. Use these simple tips to sneak more activity into your day.
Moderate cardiovascular exercise can include walking, biking, swimming, pick-up basketball or walking stairs. A great way to get some exercise before you go to bed is taking a brisk nightly walk after dinner. What matters most is that you get moving! Use these simple tips to sneak more activity into your day. And exercise could also support your weight loss efforts. Here's how.
Eat the right foods.
Experts16 say that the long-term safety of melatonin supplements hasn’t been established. To boost your melatonin naturally, focus on these foods, which are some of the highest in melatonin:17
- Balsamic vinegar
- Nuts, particularly pistachios
We hope you found these tips and information helpful. While more research is needed to better understand the effects of melatonin on weight loss and all the health benefits surrounding it, it’s clear that the hormone plays an important role when it comes to your health and sleep quality.
If you’re thinking about making a lifestyle change to improve your health and lose weight, Jenny Craig can help. Contact us and get started today!
Carole Anderson Lucia
Carole is an award-winning journalist based in Southern California who specializes in health and wellness topics. Her work has appeared in Parents, Fit Pregnancy, Mom & Baby, Yahoo News, Viv magazine and Lifescript. She's won several national awards for her work including a National Science Award and two National Health Information awards. A frequent contributor to Jenny Craig’s Blog, Healthy Habits, she enjoys gardening, spending time at the beach and adopting far too many rescue animals in her spare time.
Favorite healthy snack: jicama dipped in homemade hummus.
Reviewed by: Monica Ropar, Nutritionist
Monica has over 15 years of experience with Jenny Craig, as an expert nutrition and program resource. She develops content, training, tools and strategies for the program to support clients throughout their weight loss journey, and offers inspiration, weight loss tips, lifestyle strategies and motivation. Monica holds a Bachelor of Science degree with a double major in Dietetics and Exercise, Fitness & Health from Purdue University and continues to stay current on weight management research, consumer trends and healthcare developments.
Favorite healthy snack: raw veggie sticks with homemade hummus.
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This article is based on scientific research and/or other scientific articles and is written by experienced health and lifestyle contributors and fact-checked by Monica Ropar, Nutritionist at Jenny Craig.
Our goal at Jenny Craig is to provide the most up-to-date and objective information on health-related topics, so our readers can make informed decisions based on factual content. All articles undergo an extensive review process, and depending on topic, are reviewed by a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) or Nutritionist, to ensure accuracy.
This article contains trusted sources including scientific, peer-reviewed papers. All references are hyperlinked at the end of the article to take readers directly to the source.
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