Like many people I have had trouble sleeping at various stages of my life and have been on a constant lookout for a safe and effective, natural method of getting a better night of sleep. While lifestyle changes, exercise and bedtime procedures can be a great help, some people need extra help to get a good night of sleep. melatonin is one of the most effective supplements to encourage sleep but it has a great deal of other proven health benefits. According to a growing body of research into the supplement, melatonin may help combat symptoms of menopause, relieve pain and benefit your heart and immune health.
What is Melatonin?
Melatonin is the hormone responsible for regulating the body’s sleep-wake cycle. It is produced by the body naturally but can be affected by alcohol, caffeine, and smoking as well as poor vision or working a night shift.
Melatonin or to give it its full, medical name – N-acetyl-5-methoxytryptamine is secreted by the brain’s pineal gland. Its release is suppressed by the light and stimulated when you are in darkness. Melatonin helps maintain the body’s circadian rhythm which is basically your body’s internal clock. It plays a vital role in both falling asleep and waking up at the right time.
How Melatonin Works
Melatonin production increases in darkness but goes down when it is light. That is the reason why the blind or those working on a night shift can have trouble with their levels of melatonin. People who are exposed to too much bright light at night or too little during the day may also experience disruptions in their melatonin levels.
Exposure to light stimulates the nerve pathway from your retina to the hypothalamus in the brain. At this point, the suprachiasmatic nucleus stimulates the pineal gland into action where it starts to make melatonin before releasing it into the bloodstream.
All things being equal, the pineal gland begins producing melatonin at about 9.00 p.m. Melatonin levels will then increase greatly making you feel sleepier. So long as your body is working well, melatonin levels remain high through the night as you sleep before dropping to a barely detectable level at around 9.00. a.m.
Very young children possess the highest melatonin levels at night and some researchers believe melatonin levels continue to decrease throughout our lives. This may explain why the elderly find sleep harder to come by than during their younger days.
As well as its importance to proper sleep patterns, melatonin plays an important role in regulating the release of reproductive hormones. It can help to regulate the duration and frequency of the menstrual cycles and also tells a woman’s body when to completely stop menstruation – the menopause.
The Health Benefits of Melatonin
As a Sleep Aid
By far the best-known use of melatonin is to remedy sleeping troubles like insomnia naturally. It is a great natural alternative to the more powerful pharmaceutical sleeping pills that can cause unwanted side effects and dependency.
For all those people around the world looking for a natural remedy for their sleeping troubles, melatonin may be just what they need. Research into the effects of melatonin on the body’s circadian rhythms has found that melatonin supplements can help. It is especially useful for those whose rhythms are disrupted like shift workers or travelers with jet lag.
It can also help treat people suffering from insomnia. A study published in 2012 looked at the effects of melatonin on patients with insomnia. The study found that a dose of 2 mg of melatonin taken an hour or two before bedtime had a significantly positive effect.
The participants who took the melatonin experienced improvements in sleep duration and quality, alertness in the mornings and improved quality of life compared with the placebo group. The researchers also found that melatonin was safe and resulted in no side effects or withdrawal symptoms whether it was taken long term or short term. (1)
Supplementing with melatonin helps improve sleep for menopausal women and can also help relieve some of the other common symptoms of menopause. In a study published in 2001, menopausal women aged between 42 and 62 were given melatonin supplements daily. Within 6 months, the majority of women experienced improvements in their mood and fewer exhibited signs of depression. (2)
According to various studies, low levels of melatonin might be linked to an increased risk of breast cancer. Research conducted on animals and in vitro with human cells found melatonin might inhibit the production and growth of breast cancer cells. The study which was published in 2014 concluded that melatonin had potential in breast cancer therapy. (3)
Another small-scale study analyzed women taking chemotherapy medication for their breast cancer who were experiencing no improvements. The introduction of melatonin to supplement their treatment proved effective in reducing the size of the tumor in 28% of the patients.
As well as its effect on breast cancer, studies have demonstrated that men suffering from prostate cancer have a lower level of melatonin than healthy men. Among the studies was one published in the year 2001 which demonstrated that melatonin could significantly inhibit the growth and proliferation of the cancer cells. (4)
Melatonin may also help prevent and treat heart diseases and boost your heart’s health in general. Studies show that with regard to cardiovascular health, melatonin has both antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects which benefit the heart. Specifically, it can help reduce both cholesterol levels and blood pressure both of which are major risk factors for heart disease. (5)
Immune System Boost
Research into the effects of melatonin on the immune system is also very positive. Because if its powerful antioxidant effects, it can actually help bolster the body’s immune system and protect it from illness. A study published in 2013 entitled referred to melatonin as an ‘immune buffer’ owing to the way in which it stimulates the immune system. Researchers also found that it can relieve inflammation caused by an intense immune response. (6)
Pain Relief and Fibromyalgia
According to studies, melatonin can also relieve the painful symptoms of fibromyalgia which include widespread and long-term muscle and tissue pain.
In a study published in 2011, researchers looked at the effect of melatonin on 101 patients. They found that those who took melatonin experiences a significant improvement in their symptoms whether alone or in addition to the antidepressant drug – Prozac. (7)
Other studies have also demonstrated that melatonin may help relieve other painful conditions such as migraines and chronic headache.
Children and Developmental Problems
Melatonin may also help treat children with various developmental conditions including autism spectrum disorders and ADHD.
A review published in 2011 analyzed the findings of 35 studies related to melatonin’s effect on autism spectrum disorders including Asperger’s syndrome and Rett syndrome.
The review concluded that supplementing with melatonin was linked to improvements including better sleep and improved behavior. Importantly, they also found there were very few side effects associated with the supplement.
To Ease Tinnitus
Tinnitus is a relatively common condition which causes a ringing or other noise in a person’s ears. Many people find that the symptoms disappear eventually as the nerves and auditory sensations adapt. However, many people suffer for much longer periods of time and it can lead to various other health issues like depression and anxiety. Fortunately, research indicates that melatonin may represent a natural treatment for tinnitus and may offer some hope to millions of sufferers worldwide.
A study published in 2011 looked at the effects of tinnitus on 61 participants all of whom suffered from tinnitus. The participants were given 3 mg of melatonin each night for a 30 day period. By the end of the study, the majority of participants experienced a significant decrease in their symptoms. Not only was melatonin effective in reducing the ringing but it also helped improve sleep quality in the participants. (9)
According to research, melatonin may also help combat bladder dysfunction that often accompanies aging. We find melatonin receptors in both the prostate and the bladder and it works by preventing malondialdehyde (a marker of oxidative stress) levels from rising. By reducing levels of oxidative stress, melatonin can help combat various bladder issues. It also helps control bladder contractions and promotes relaxation. This helps to combat common bladder problems like an overactive bladder.
According to an article published by Current Urology, there is a growing body of evidence to suggest a melatonin imbalance has a detrimental effect on bladder function. The review also notes that the precise reasons for this action remain unclear. (10)
Another study published in 2012 indicated that the production every night of melatonin was linked to better sleep and to reduced nightly voiding. Melatonin could help decrease the volume of urine increase bladder capacity because of its effect on the nervous system. (11)
Frequently Asked Questions
What is melatonin good for?
Melatonin supplements are mostly used to help people with sleep issues like insomnia or for people suffering jet lag or working night shifts. There are many other potential uses for melatonin supplements including treating menopause symptoms, relieving pain, boosting the immune system and reducing cholesterol.
How long does it take for melatonin to kick in?
When it comes to promoting sleep, studies have demonstrated that melatonin starts working in around 30 minutes though for some people it may take longer.
How much melatonin should I take to sleep?
For people that have trouble getting to sleep, studies have found doses ranging from 0.3 mg to 5 mg a day for 9 months were effective. For people with disturbances in their sleep-wake cycles, doses between 2 and 12 mg at bedtime have proven effective.
How much melatonin is safe to take?
Doses up to 12 mg a day have been used in studies with no serious side effects but the typical dose is much lower. Potential side effects are discussed later in this article.
Can you die from too much melatonin?
There is absolutely no evidence that taking melatonin could be fatal or life-threatening. However, there are some potential side effects discussed below.
How to Use Melatonin
- Melatonin is readily available in various forms including capsules, tablets, liquid extract, topical creams, and lozenges.
- There is currently no firm recommended dosages but the typical dose is a maximum of 5 milligrams each day which may vary depending on the condition being treated. Consult with an expert if you are uncertain of the appropriate dosage.
- For people who are using melatonin to improve their sleep, you should take just the right amount to help you sleep better without suffering daytime fatigue and irritability.
- It is best to start with a low dose and see how it goes and always read the directions.
- Always consult your doctor before using melatonin supplements on your children to ensure you give them the appropriate dose.
- Melatonin is considered safe when taken orally for a short period and may also be safe when taken for a longer time. In studies, people have taken daily doses of melatonin for up to two years without any ill effects.
- Taking melatonin can cause people to experience nightmares and vivid dreams.
- Taking too much can cause a disruption in your circadian rhythms.
- Possible side effects include dizziness, headache, sleepiness during the daytime, stomach cramp, decreased libido, and irritability.
- Melatonin may interact with certain medications including antidepressants, benzodiazepines, blood pressure medicine and steroids.