Melatonin is an all-important hormone that helps sleep-deprived people fall asleep and stay asleep. Fans of this sleep supplement love its ability to signal to the brain that it’s bedtime. While the body produces it as part of our circadian rhythm, a variety of lifestyle factors can impede that production (hello, blue light), leading many to want to boost their natural quantity at night in the form of a supplement. Pistachios contain a significant amount of melatonin naturally, which may be something you don’t have any idea about. How do they compare to supplements when it comes to promoting sleep?
Despite current research, this answer is not entirely clear-but we do know that pistachios stand out in the list of melatonin-rich foods, which also includes tart cherries, grapes, mushrooms, and grains, among others. According to Frances Largeman-Roth, RDN, author of Smoothes and Juices: Prevention Healing Kitchen, pistachio nuts have the highest amount of melatonin of any food, with approximately 6.6 milligrams per one-ounce serving. In contrast, melatonin supplements typically contain one to three milligrams of the hormone, she says.
Nonetheless, it is noteworthy that the hormone is not prescribed for dosage (since it is a hormone that we all naturally produce), and our bodies may be able to extract and use varying amounts of the hormone from both pistachios and supplements in order to feel its effects. That is to say, the body processes six milligrams of melatonin in pistachios differently than six milligrams taken as a supplement, so the amount of sleepiness you feel will be different, too.
Melatonin from food versus supplements
The fact that pistachios contain melatonin is not the only thing that makes them beneficial; the way they digest and absorb the nutrient is quite different compared to how it is with supplements. Pistachios also play a significant role in melatonin production, as evidenced by other factors. Carleara Weiss, PhD, MS, RN, a sleep doctor, says eating pistachios can affect our internal levels of melatonin depending on how much, when, and what we combine them with.
“The impact of pistachios on our internal melatonin levels varies with the amount we eat, the time of day, and whether they are eaten alone or with other foods.” -Carleara Weiss, PhD, sleep doctor
Studying how much melatonin is bioavailable in foods (meaning the amount the body is able to use) found that eating foods rich in melatonin increased the concentration of the hormone in the blood, hinting at its potential for health benefits.
Try pistachios as part of a sleep-supportive routine.
Knowing the natural melatonin content of pistachios, there are no serious downsides to eating them more at night. Taking melatonin regularly (at least in supplement form) has not been associated with negative side effects. However, taking extra-high doses of the hormone can cause dependence, at least in supplement form.
Eat a serving of pistachios, 1/4 cup, before bedtime to test out if they help you sleep, recommends Largeman-Roth. Take a sleeping journal to keep track of how you feel, and whether you notice any difference in your ability to fall or stay asleep. Pistachios also contain healthy nutrients, including vitamin B6, copper, and manganese.
Melatonin supplements or pistachios alone, according to Dr. Weiss, are not a substitute for healthy sleep hygiene habits, such as keeping a regular routine, exercising regularly, and limiting alcohol consumption.
A good deal of light exposure in the morning and minimizing exposure at night are also on the list. A quarter cup of pistachios will jump-start your body’s production of melatonin if you consider both of these priorities.
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