What is Melatonin?

Melatonin is a naturally occurring hormone in the body that regulates sleep-wake cycles, also known as night and day cycles. Synthetic melatonin in supplements is produced in a lab.

The production of melatonin is triggered by darkness, which signals the body to sleep. In contrast, light reduces melatonin production, signaling the body to be awake. Individuals with low melatonin levels may experience difficulty sleeping, and supplementation with melatonin may aid their sleep.

Melatonin is commonly used to treat insomnia and improve sleep in conditions such as jet lag. However, its effectiveness in treating depression, chronic pain, dementia, and other conditions is not supported by scientific evidence. There is also no evidence to support the use of melatonin in treating COVID-19.


Does melatonin help with cancer symptoms?

The impact of melatonin supplements on cancer symptoms or treatment-related side effects has been inconclusive due to small-scale studies with varying outcomes.

It’s important to note that untested products should not be used in place of or as a delay to conventional cancer treatment. Additionally, some products may interfere with standard cancer treatments or pose unique risks to those with a cancer diagnosis. Prior to using any complementary health approaches, including melatonin, individuals diagnosed with cancer should consult their healthcare providers to ensure that all aspects of their care are complementary.

Can melatonin help with insomnia?

Insomnia is a condition where individuals struggle with initiating or maintaining sleep, or both. Chronic insomnia is diagnosed when these symptoms persist for a month or longer.

The American Academy of Sleep Medicine (2017) and the American College of Physicians (2016) practice guidelines indicate insufficient strong evidence on the safety and effectiveness of melatonin supplementation for chronic insomnia. The American College of Physicians’ guidelines strongly suggest cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBT-I) as the initial treatment for insomnia.

Does melatonin work for shift workers?

Shift work, particularly night shifts, can cause drowsiness at work and make it challenging to sleep during the day after a shift.

Two research reviews conducted in 2014 found that studies on the efficacy of melatonin supplements for shift workers were generally small or inconclusive.

The first review analyzed 7 studies, encompassing a total of 263 participants. The results suggested that individuals taking melatonin may sleep about 24 minutes longer during the daytime, but other aspects of sleep, such as the time required to fall asleep, may not improve. Nevertheless, the evidence was deemed of low quality.

The other review investigated 8 studies, with a total of 300 participants, to determine whether melatonin aided sleep in shift workers. Six of the studies were of high quality, and the results were inconclusive. The review did not make any recommendations for the use of melatonin in shift workers.

Is it safe to take melatonin?

Information regarding the possible side effects of melatonin supplements, especially when consumed in doses higher than what the body normally produces, is still insufficient to assess overall safety. While short-term use of melatonin supplements seems to be safe for most individuals, information on the long-term safety of using melatonin supplements is lacking.

It’s also important to note the following:

Interactions with medications

Individuals who are taking medication should consult with their healthcare providers before using melatonin, similar to other dietary supplements. People with epilepsy and those taking blood thinners should be under medical supervision when using melatonin supplements.

Possible allergic reactions

There may be a risk of allergic reactions to melatonin supplements.

Safety concerns for pregnant and breastfeeding women

Research on the safety of using melatonin supplements in pregnant or breastfeeding women is insufficient.

Safety concerns for older people

The American Academy of Sleep Medicine’s 2015 guidelines advise against using melatonin in individuals with dementia. Melatonin may stay active in older individuals longer than younger individuals, leading to daytime drowsiness.

Melatonin is regulated as a dietary supplement

In the United States, melatonin is classified as a dietary supplement and is regulated less strictly by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) than prescription or over-the-counter drugs. In some other countries, melatonin is only available with a prescription and is considered a drug.

Products may not contain what’s listed on the label

Some melatonin supplements may not contain what’s listed on the product label. A 2017 study that tested 31 different melatonin supplements purchased from grocery stores and pharmacies found that the quantity of melatonin in the product didn’t match the label. Additionally, 26 percent of the supplements contained serotonin, a hormone that can have harmful effects even at relatively low levels.

What are the side effects of melatonin?

A 2015 review on the safety of melatonin supplements indicated that only mild side effects were reported in various short-term studies that involved adults, surgical patients, and critically ill patients. Some of the mild side effects that were reported in the studies included:





The possible long-term side effects of melatonin use are unclear.


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