What is melatonin?
Melatonin is produced by your brain in response to darkness and helps keep your 24-internal clock ticking as it should be.
Being exposed to light when you’re trying to sleep will block the production of melatonin and can cause issues when trying to sleep. Sleep deprivation can then lead to broader health issues.
Melatonin supplements can help with a lack of sleep. This guide will give you an overview of how melatonin supplements can potentially benefit you and what you need to be aware of before taking them. And what is available in a natural and synthetic form if you’re looking for a melatonin supplement.
What are the benefits of taking melatonin?
Melatonin can help with sleep deprivation disorders such as jet lag, delayed sleep-wake disorder, sleep disorders in children, and even anxieties before significant surgeries.
Jet lag can cause numerous physical health issues such as feeling generally unwell, disturbed sleep, tiredness during the daytime, inability to function, and even digestive problems.
Studies suggest that melatonin can help with jet lag (1). Four studies tested 142 people who had recently travelled. Some participants were given melatonin, and some participants were given a placebo substance. The results showed that melatonin reduced the overall symptoms after eastward flights.
Another 90 participants were tested in a related study, and melatonin showed to be better than a placebo at reducing jet lag after westward flights (2).
Delayed sleep-wake phase disorder (DSWPD)
The main symptom of DSWPD is that people can struggle to fall asleep at their usual times in the evening but can also have trouble with waking up first thing in the morning.
Studies have shown that melatonin did help with sleep when a group of people with DSWPD were tested. But professionals are still unclear if the benefits actually outweigh the potential harm (3).
A study in 2016 by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine reported that melatonin supplements helped reduce the time it took the participants to fall to sleep compared to those who took the placebo. It took, on average, around 22 minutes less for them to fall asleep (4).
Sleep disorders in children
Children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), autism, asthma, and dermatitis are more likely to suffer from sleep problems than other children who don’t suffer from these conditions.
There is no definite answer for the best approach to improving sleep in children. But a good bedtime habit and routine and parental education can provide its advantages when dealing with this issue.
Research carried out in 2019 looked at 18 different melatonin supplements that were given to around 1,021 children. The overall findings showed that melatonin had more of a positive impact than a placebo supplement when improving general sleep times for children (5).
There are still uncertainties about the usage of melatonin in children and what dosage to give them, and when to provide them with it. As melatonin is a hormone, there is a potential risk of contributing to developmental issues in children.
We would always recommend that you speak to a medical professional if you want to know more about giving a child melatonin to help combat sleep issues.
Anxiety before surgery
Research in 2015 took a closer look at 12 different studies that involved around 774 people and assessed the impact of anxiety before surgery and after surgery.
The results showed that there was substantial evidence that melatonin was more successful at calming anxiety before surgery. The results for reducing anxiety after surgery were mixed, so it’s unclear if it helps to lower anxiety after surgery (6).
Can melatonin help with insomnia?
The common symptoms of insomnia include problems falling to sleep, staying asleep, or both. If these symptoms last longer than a month, this is known as chronic insomnia.
According got the American College of Physicians (2016) and the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (2017), there is no reliable evidence to suggest that this will be a solution to chronic insomnia to recommend its use. The American College of Physicians recommends using CBT as a treatment for insomnia (7).
Can melatonin work for people who work shifts?
The biggest issue with shift work is that working nights can make people feel tired when they’re supposed to be working, and it makes it difficult to sleep when their shift ends and they want to go to sleep.
Research around whether melatonin supplements will help shift workers proved to be inconclusive. Research professionals looked at 7 different studies that involved 263 people. The general findings were that people who took melatonin supplements slept for 24 minutes longer during the day, but the time it took to fall to sleep didn’t really change. The research couldn’t be used for a definite answer around if melatonin helped shift workers with their sleeping habits (8).
Is it safe to take melatonin?
Unfortunately, there is just not enough evidence yet to solidly prove the positive side effects of melatonin and the overall safety of taking a supplement of this type.
Short term use of melatonin is generally safe for most people, but information around taking melatonin long term is highly lacking (9).
You should always consult your health care professional before taking melatonin supplements, especially if you or your loved ones have an underlying health issue (10).
What are the side effects of melatonin?
The studies mentioned above found that people experienced the following side effects:
Research around the long term side effects of melatonin has not been proven (11).
You should always consult your health professional if you’re thinking about taking melatonin supplements.
If you have underlying health conditions, it’s even more important to seek medical advice before taking any medications.
Studies have shown that melatonin supplements have only benefited in the short term. There is not enough evidence to suggest this is a long-term sustainable supplement (12).