Beyond delivering deep and peaceful slumber, melatonin supplements may offer a host of other benefits. At the same time, you should also be aware of the possible drawbacks of this widely popular supplement. Let’s take a closer look at and weigh some melatonin pros and cons.
Article at a Glance
- Studies have shown that melatonin is more than just a sleep aid; the supplement also has great potential in supporting a number of body processes and preventing some diseases.
- Based on a growing body of evidence, both anecdotal and scientific, short- and long-term supplementation with melatonin poses minimal health risks.
- The pros and cons of melatonin use in adults still require further studies, but available evidence indicates that the benefits far outweigh the drawbacks.
The Benefits of Taking a Melatonin Supplement
Melatonin supplements are widely used as a sleep aid. The chemical — which is naturally produced by the brain’s pineal gland to regulate the body’s sleep-wake cycle — has been found to be particularly beneficial for people with insomnia and other sleep problems.
In the U.S., melatonin supplements are available over the counter; in Europe, Australia, and other parts of the world, melatonin is considered prescription medication. Inducing sleep and promoting better sleep are the main benefits of melatonin.
One meta analysis of 19 studies involving children and adults suffering from various sleep disorders found that melatonin facilitated quicker sleep onset, longer sleep time, and better sleep quality. Another study that involved 50 adults with insomnia discovered that melatonin, when taken 2 hours prior to bedtime, helped them fall asleep more quickly and improved their quality of sleep.
Aside from promoting better sleep, melatonin may also offer other benefits.
May boost immune function
One study has found that melatonin can act as both an immune stimulant (under normal conditions or when the immune system is compromised) and as an anti-inflammatory (when the immune system produces an inflammatory response).
May help manage blood pressure
Initial findings from a study found that daily nighttime melatonin may “significantly reduce nocturnal blood pressure” among males with essential hypertension. Other studies also suggest that melatonin has a lowering effect on the blood pressure of healthy adults. However, people with hypertension and who are already taking blood-pressure-lowering medications should avoid melatonin.
Offers antioxidant properties
Free radicals and oxidative stress caused by an unhealthy diet and environmental pollutants are associated with aging, cancer, atherosclerosis, neurodegenerative disorders, diabetes, and inflammatory diseases. Antioxidants which can be derived from healthy foods are one of the best ways to protect the body from these risks, and several studies have found that melatonin can potentially deliver antioxidant benefits and may be valuable in the prevention and/or treatment of some diseases.
May help manage seasonal affective disorder (SAD)
Also known as seasonal depression, SAD typically occurs during the late fall and lasts through winter. The reduction in the number of hours of daylight, which can disrupt circadian rhythms, is one potential cause of SAD. At least one study has found that taking melatonin to help regulate circadian rhythm can reduce the symptoms of SAD.
May improve eye health
The antioxidant properties of melatonin may also help protect the eyes from certain diseases. One study involving individuals with age-related macular degeneration (AMD) found that treatment with melatonin helped protect against retinal damage and preserved visual clarity. Another study involving lab rats found that melatonin may decrease the incidence and severity of retinopathy, a retinal disease that often leads to loss of vision.
May improve skin health
The potential benefits of melatonin for skin health are so promising that many skincare products now include melatonin as one of the major ingredients. The antioxidant properties of melatonin are at least as potent as those of vitamins C and E, and may help restore and improve skin tone and reduce signs of aging. As a good night’s sleep is closely associated with healthy skin, taking melatonin to promote better sleep also means good news for the skin.
May increase levels of human growth hormone (HGH)
HGH plays an important role in cellular growth and regeneration, and high HGH levels are associated with greater bone and muscle strength. A few, small studies involving male participants have found that supplementing with melatonin increased HGH levels.
May help treat gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
Heartburn, nausea, and belching are common symptoms of GERD. Results from one study revealed that melatonin may block stomach acid secretion and prevent acid reflux.
Doesn’t cause a “sleep hangover,” withdrawal symptoms, and/or addiction/dependence
Compared to other sleep medications, melatonin has a lower risk for grogginess and headaches the day after. Based on available studies, the body also does not develop a tolerance for melatonin, even after long-term use, so that there is no risk for dependence/addiction.
The Drawbacks of Melatonin Supplement
Short- and long-term use of melatonin has been shown to be relatively safe for adults. For use in children and adolescents, however, most experts recommend practicing extreme caution as the effects of melatonin on their growth and development are still unknown, especially when the supplement is used for a prolonged period. Melatonin is usually only recommended by doctors for children with autism and/or attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder.
As with all supplements, melatonin may also have some side effects. The most commonly reported are nausea, dizziness, headaches, an upset stomach, irritability, and daytime sleepiness. Side effects are usually remedied by adjusting the dosage of melatonin taken. Individuals who are taking other medications for another condition should consult their doctor before taking a melatonin supplement as it may adversely interact with the medication/s.
Below are the possible drawbacks of taking melatonin.
May disrupt circadian rhythm
Some experts have raised concerns about the possibility that supplementing with melatonin may affect the body’s natural ability to produce melatonin and, therefore, disrupt circadian rhythm. Especially when taken during daytime, such as by individuals who do shift work, there might be a higher risk for irregularities in circadian rhythm. However, studies looking into this potential drawback are still lacking.
May cause daytime sleepiness
Depending on the dosage and an individual’s melatonin clearance rate — or the rate at which melatonin is cleared from the body — melatonin may cause daytime sleepiness.
May cause nightmares or vivid dreams
Studies linking melatonin and nightmares/vivid dreams are still lacking, but some scientists suggest that there might be a greater chance of having nightmares or vivid dreams when taking melatonin as the supplement promotes longer REM sleep — which is when vivid dreaming is likely to occur.
May affect blood pressure
As melatonin has the potential to reduce blood pressure, individuals who are already taking medications for hypertension are at risk for a severe drop in blood pressure if they also take melatonin.
May adversely interact with certain medications.
Individuals taking any of the following drugs should avoid melatonin supplements or seek the recommendation of their doctor regarding melatonin:
- Anticoagulants and antiplatelet drugs
- Contraceptive drugs
- Diabetes medications
- Medications that suppress the immune system (immunosuppressants)
Pros and Cons of Melatonin: Final Thoughts
Not everything that is natural is safe, and this is also true for melatonin. Both animal studies and clinical trials have so far found that melatonin may offer great health benefits and only mild and occasional side effects; while more studies are still needed, available evidence already suggests that melatonin pros far outweigh its cons.
However, always keep in mind that melatonin supplements are not regulated by the FDA so it’s extremely important that you choose a good quality product made by a reputable manufacturer to ensure greater efficacy and safety.