Melatonin for Anxiety: Does it Work?

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Anxiety disorders affect millions of people every year. The ADAA cites anxiety disorders as “the most common mental illness in the United States.” 

Anxiety is often treated with anxiolytic benzodiazepines, medications that help to calm the mind. They do this by aiding production of GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid), a neurotransmitter that dampens neural activity. Unfortunately, benzodiazepines also come with a host of potential adverse side effects.

According to a 2016 meta-analysis of clinical trials, Melatonin may be a natural alternative to relieving symptoms of anxiousness. A systematic review of the included randomized trials suggests that melatonin supplements could be an effective treatment option for people with certain types of anxiety.

What is anxiety?

Anxiety is characterized by feelings of stress, unease, and dread. Short-term anxiety is a normal psychological reaction to stressful events, whereas chronic anxiety is a prolonged experience. Symptoms of anxiety may include restlessness, elevated heart rate, and clamminess or sweating. 

Anxiety becomes a disorder when anxious emotions severely impact your daily life. Extreme cases of anxiety may also be accompanied by panic attacks, and prolonged anxiety is even linked to long-term medical conditions like high blood pressure.

Anxiety can be broken down into different categories like:

  • Social Anxiety: fear and stress in social settings, difficulty talking to or meeting people, and fear of being judged by others
  • Surgical Anxiety: severe stress before undergoing medical procedures
  • Age-Related Anxiety: anxious feelings as a result of age-related decline in health or social activity
  • Generalized Anxiety: extreme negative reactions to everyday stressors

People with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) suffer from severe mental duress as a response to even relatively minor problems or difficulties and may exhibit irrational worrying over unlikely negative events.

Anxiety often shows up alongside symptoms of other mood disorders and sleep issues.  Sleep problems can also be contributing factors to anxiety. As such, sleep aids can sometimes help to relieve anxiety symptoms.

What is Melatonin?

It is a hormone produced in the pineal gland. Our bodies naturally produce it to help regulate our sleep patterns. Melatonin production affects our circadian rhythms and sleep-wake cycles. It is also an antioxidant and has been shown to help reduce oxidative stress in the brain. 

Our brains automatically produce melatonin, but this production is inhibited by exposure to bright light, such as daylight and the blue light that is emitted by electronics. Therefore melatonin levels increase at night, causing sleepiness and helping us to enter our first sleep phase.

How to Use Melatonin

The use of it is common for Americans with sleep issues. A variety of melatonin supplements are available, and most are easily accessible. You are probably already familiar with melatonin tablets and capsules that can be taken orally, as this method is the most common. Other options include:

  • Sublingual melatonin: A supplement that can be dissolved under the tongue. Sublingual melatonin administration is often used for those with surgical anxiety prior to a medical procedure.
  • Topical melatonin: Often available as a cream or gel, topical melatonin has a variety of purposes. Although not used for anxiety or as a sleep aid, topical application is sometimes used as sun protection, skincare, or as a treatment for alopecia.  
  • Intravenous melatonin: Intravenous melatonin has been used as a part of treatment for tumors. This type of melatonin treatment administration should only occur in a clinical setting under medical supervision.

Can you take melatonin during the day? While specific cases, such as those of surgical anxiety, may require melatonin to be administered during the day, melatonin supplementation is most commonly used at night.

Dosage: The most effective dose of melatonin likely depends on your individual biochemistry and the severity of your needs. The typical dosage can be anywhere between 13 and 10 milligrams (mg), but it may be best to start at the minimum dosage to see how your body responds and increase accordingly. 

Most studies have found supplementation to be safe for short-term use, although there is limited data on the use of melatonin over long-term periods. Side effects may occur, but without comorbidities or other medication interactions, most side effects are mild. 

Because they are classified as dietary supplements, most melatonin products do not undergo screening by the FDA. As such, there is a possibility of contaminants. For the highest quality supplements, talk to your healthcare provider or look for options that have been verified by the United States Pharmacopeia. 

What the Research Says

How does melatonin work to help with anxiety? Melatonin can be used as a natural, over-the-counter alternative to prescription sleep medicines. It helps to regulate the body’s sleep cycle and decrease symptoms of sleep-related anxiety. 

In addition to its other functions, melatonin also helps to regulate pain. This may suggest that it may have application for headaches, migraines, and even fibromyalgia. 

What are the side effects of melatonin? Most people don’t report serious side effects from taking melatonin. In the event that they do occur, such adverse events are often quite mild. Side effects may include:

  • Dizziness
  • Drowsiness
  • Nausea or upset stomach
  • Headache
  • Rash

In rare cases, melatonin can increase anxiety. However, this does not necessarily mean that you should avoid trying melatonin if you are currently dealing with anxiety.

Is melatonin safe for anxiety? It is generally safe to try melatonin due to the mild nature of any potential side effects, but it is always best to consult your healthcare provider first.

Should I take melatonin if I have anxiety? If your anxiety is connected to or causing sleep issues, taking melatonin may help. Because many factors contribute to anxiety, assess your needs before trying a new treatment.

Sleep and Mental Health

Sleep is critical to our overall health and proper immune system function. Prolonged sleep disturbances can cause a long-term rise in cortisol, leading to a greater risk of anxiety, depression, and other health issues.

Several factors can cause sleep deprivation, and there are numerous treatment options. Many aspects of our modern lifestyles can disrupt our sleep, directly and indirectly, by affecting our melatonin production. Some of these include:

  • Environmental and biological stress
  • Poor diet and nutrition
  • Decreased natural light exposure
  • Blue light exposure before sleeping
  • Late-night work shifts
  • Jet lag 
  • Poor sleep quality or imbalanced sleep cycles
  • Sleep disorders

Who Shouldn’t Use Melatonin?

Certain medications may have negative interactions with melatonin. These include:

  • Blood thinners
  • Medication for blood pressure
  • Antidepressants
  • Other sleep aids
  • Medications that cause drowsiness
  • Anyone younger than 18 years old

You should consult your physician or a pharmacist if you are currently on these medications. It is also best to seek medical advice before taking melatonin if you are:

  • An organ transplant recipient
  • Pregnant or breastfeeding
  • Prone to seizures

If any of these conditions apply to you, talk with a doctor or pharmacist before using melatonin. They may be able to recommend an alternative.

Other Supplements

While melatonin may help regulate sleep, that doesn’t always stop daytime symptoms. Other supplements may help to calm anxiety symptoms as you go about your day. These include:

  • Chamomile tea: Some studies show that chamomile was safe and effective in treating symptoms of GAD for long-term periods.
  • Lavender tea: Lavender tea has been shown to reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression and is recommended as a supplemental treatment for patients of both disorders.
  • Passionflower: A 2020 study showed that passionflower reduced anxiety symptoms in most study participants, and no negative side effects were observed.

If your anxiety is related to nutritional deficiencies, you may also want to consider supplements that help address these. Vitamin and mineral supplements to consider include:

  • Vitamin D: Some studies have found that vitamin D supplements resulted in higher serotonin levels and significantly improved anxiety symptoms for trial participants when compared with those who did not receive the supplements.
  • Vitamin B: Vitamin B has been linked with a reduction of symptoms of anxiety, stress, and depression.
  • Omega-3 fatty acids (fish oil): One study found that omega-3 fatty acid supplementation resulted in a 20% reduction of anxiety symptoms for trial participants when compared with those in the control group.
  • Magnesium: This essential mineral eases symptoms of anxiety by relaxing muscles and contributing to a good night’s sleep. 

Consult Your Physician

If you’re dealing with anxiety, melatonin may help. But there are many potential contributors to anxiety. Consult a trusted medical expert to get a full examination before trying a new supplement.

At PrimeHealth, we look at every angle and offer holistic approaches to wellness. Book a consultation today to let us partner with you on the road to mental and physical health.


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