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How do melatonin and serotonin build better sleep?


Your body has evolved specific systems to keep a timetable of biological processes. The sleep-wake cycle is aligned with the day and night cycle and is influenced by light and darkness. Melatonin is the main brain chemical produced at night that is responsible for putting you to sleep, with its levels peaking from 2am to 4am [1]. Serotonin is produced from an amino acid tryptophan (found in protein rich foods). Once tryptophan enters the brain, it is converted to 5-htp which is used to make serotonin. Serotonin and sleep are connected because your brain can make melatonin only from serotonin.

Why do we sleep?

Sleep is essential for survival, but the exact purpose of sleep is still unknown. Scientists have theorized different reasons for why humans sleep. It is possible that sleep was established as a protective mechanism to avoid being hunted by predators, or it was developed to conserve energy during the night to save fuel for food hunting in the day. Other theories believe that sleep evolved for body repair and replenishment, and growth and reorganization of brain cells [2].

How does melatonin promote sleep?

Melatonin has existed for over 3 billion years and is found in all plant and animal species. Melatonin is produced at night, when UV light levels drop. The light sensitive eye cells signal brain cells to produce melatonin to prepare the body for sleep. Exposure to blue light decreases melatonin production [3]. The sun, phone and TV screens, and LED bulbs are sources of blue light. It is recommended to limit screen time before bed and have dim lights in the bedroom to promote good sleep. Melatonin production decreases as you grow older [4] which may contribute to insomnia in older adults.

Can you orally ingest melatonin?

Yes. In the UK, it is classified as a prescription medication. In the US, it can be bought over the counter.

What is the link between 5-htp and melatonin?

There is a linear chain of production. Increase in 5-htp will increase serotonin production. Adequate amount of serotonin is vital to make melatonin. This promotes high quality sleep and keeps your body clock ticking efficiently. Low levels of either 5-htp or serotonin will affect melatonin production.

What are the benefits of 5-htp for sleep? 

5-htp is not prescribed to treat sleep problems. Some 5-htp users have noted sleep benefits and studies have found that 5-htp can help increase the sleep stage in which dreaming occurs by 50% [5]. Brain development also occurs during this stage. Those experiencing sleep terrors reported an increase in restful sleep when supplemented with 5-htp [6]. In older adults, 5-htp helped decrease the time it took them to fall asleep, thus improving sleep quality [7]. Taking 5-htp during the day contributes towards serotonin production and it is non drowsy and non sedative. 

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Making a few lifestyle changes can help you get a good night’s rest. You can improve your melatonin levels by having a bedtime routine involving dim lights and avoiding screen time. If you are looking for a sleep aid, supplemental melatonin can be considered if it can be bought in the country you live. You can support serotonin and melatonin production by getting sufficient tryptophan rich foods like tofu, chicken, dairy and eggs. Alternatively, 5-htp in supplemental form can be used to increase serotonin and consequently melatonin levels. Brain feed’s 100mg 5-htp is extracted and isolated from Ghanian Griffonia Simplicifolia seeds. 98% of the tablet is comprised of 5-htp making it the smallest, nutrient-dense tablet available and no unnecessary bulking agents. You can read more about it here.

  1. Grivas, T.B. and Savvidou, O.D. (2007). Melatonin the ‘light of night’ in human biology and adolescent idiopathic scoliosis. Scoliosis, 2(1). 
  2. Brinkman, J.E., et al. (2020). Physiology, Sleep. [online] PubMed. 
  3. Tähkämö, L., et al. (2019). Systematic review of light exposure impact on human circadian rhythm. Chronobiology international, [online] 36(2), pp.151–170. 
  4. Poza, J.J., et al. (2020). Melatonin in sleep disorders. Neurología (English Edition). 
  5. Maffei, M.E. (2020). 5-Hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP): Natural Occurrence, Analysis, Biosynthesis, Biotechnology, Physiology and Toxicology. International Journal of Molecular Sciences, 22(1).
  6. Bruni, O., Ferri, R., Miano, S. and Verrillo, E. (2004). l -5-Hydroxytryptophan treatment of sleep terrors in children. European Journal of Pediatrics, 163(7). 
  7. Sutanto, C. et al. (2021). The Impact of 5-Hydroxytryptophan Supplementation on Sleep Quality of Older Adults in Singapore: A Randomized Controlled Trial. Current Developments in Nutrition, 5 (2). 
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