Melatonin is a commonly taken supplement that is used to improve sleep and promote healthy circadian rhythms. Melatonin is particularly effective at combating jet lag, and similar sleep related disorders. People suffering from insomnia have seen a huge improvement in their sleep quality and quantity after taking melatonin supplements.
Due to the many benefits of improved sleep, melatonin can be linked to improvements in testosterone levels, improvements in appetite, and reductions in body fat. These are secondary benefits though, rather than direct benefits.
There are two forms of melatonin supplement available, a natural and a synthetic version. The natural form of melatonin is extracted from the pineal gland of animals while the synthetic version is made in a lab (1).
The latter is considered safer, and is much more common.
1Melatonin can help improve sleep quality and combat sleep disorders. The number one reason why people take melatonin is to improve their sleep. Whether they are suffering from chronic insomnia, or just a simple case of jet lag, melatonin can help.
A 1990 study looked at the effect of melatonin on sleep (2). The study found that sleep latency (how long it takes to fall asleep) dropped significantly when melatonin was taken.
A similar study in 1994 also found a reduction in sleep latency when taking melatonin supplements (3).
A 1995 study in the European Journal of Pharmacology found that melatonin supplementation improved evening napping and reduced sleep latency (4).
A study in the Journal of Sleep Research found that taking melatonin supplementation could improve sleep by reducing core body temperature (5).
Or it would be more accurate to say that they found that melatonin supplementation reduced core body temperature while sleeping, and that sleep quality improved, meaning that the two could be related.
They concluded that melatonin supplementation “may be useful in treating sleep disorders associated with increased nocturnal tc” (tc stands for core temperature).
One of the most common sleep disorders is jet lag. It occurs when people travel through time zones and have to change their schedule to reflect this. Travelling like this can lead to a disruption of the body’s circadian rhythms. A Cochrane Database System Review in 2002 looked at whether melatonin supplementation could help treat the symptoms of jet lag (6).
The study reviewed ten trials and came to the conclusion that “Melatonin is remarkably effective in preventing or reducing jet-lag, and occasional short-term use appears to be safe. It should be recommended to adult travellers flying across five or more time zones”.
People who suffer from tinnitus can also struggle to fall asleep. A 2011 study titled “Melatonin: Can it stop the ringing?” looked at whether supplementing with melatonin could improve sleep quality in tinnitus sufferers (7).
61 subjects with chronic tinnitus were either given 3mg of melatonin per day or a placebo for a period of 30 days. They then swapped groups for another 30 days. The study found that melatonin was “associated with a statistically significant decrease in tinnitus intensity and improved sleep quality in patients with chronic tinnitus”. So not only can melatonin help improve tinnitus, but it can also improve sleep for people with chronic tinnitus.
2Melatonin can help increase growth hormone production. Growth hormone is a peptide hormone which is secreted in the pituitary gland. The function of growth hormone is anabolic, and as such it is highly prized among athletes and bodybuilders (8).
In fact, growth hormone is one of the most commonly taken performance enhancers among athletes looking to cheat their way to better performances.
But naturally stimulating growth hormone levels is an excellent idea. There are many benefits from a performance point of view, as well as health and body composition. Quite a few studies have found that taking melatonin can increase growth hormone production.
A 1999 study in Clinical Endocrinology found that taking melatonin before bed led to a significant increase in growth hormone release the next day (9).
A similar study in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition looked at whether combining resistance exercise and melatonin would lead to an increase in growth hormone secretion (10).
The study found that when males combine exercise and melatonin supplementation (5.0mg) there is a significant increase in growth hormone secretion. The change was not noticed in females. A 1999 study also found that melatonin enhanced the effect of exercise on growth hormone secretion (11).
Not all studies noticed an effect though. A 1998 study failed to find a difference in growth hormone secretions after taking 5mg of melatonin (12).
3Melatonin may reduce symptoms of heartburn. A 2010 study looked at the “potential therapeutic effect of melatonin in Gastro-Esophageal reflux disease” (13).
36 people were placed into four groups of nine. A control group, a group with reflux disease who were given melatonin, a group with reflux disease who were given omeprazole (a common drug given for heartburn), and a group with reflux disease who were given a combination of both.
Omezaprazole alone was found to be more effective than melatonin, but a combination of both was found to be most effective at treating heartburn. It does this by strengthening the lower esophageal sphincter.
4Melatonin supplementation may increase blood flow. A study in the American Journal of Cardiology (1999) found that 1mg of melatonin was able to slightly increase blood flow (14).
This could have many practical applications, potentially in hypertrophy – where increased blood flow can help deliver nutrients to the muscles and improve muscle protein synthesis.
5Melatonin may reduce blood pressure. While there is evidence that melatonin can increase blood flow, there also appears to be evidence that it can reduce blood pressure. The same study that found an increase in blood flow, also found a reduction in blood pressure in men. A 1998 study in the American Journal of Physiology found that melatonin supplementation reduced blood pressure in women (15).
6Melatonin mixed with exercise can reduce triglycerides. A 2012 study looked at the effect of melatonin and intense exercise on football players (16).
Sixteen male footballers were split into a control group (placebo and intense exercise) and a group who took 6mg of melatonin combined with intense exercise. While both groups saw a drop in triglycerides, the melatonin group saw significantly lower levels post-exercise.
It appears that melatonin alone is not enough to see a difference though. A 2011 article in the Journal of Pineal Research did not see a difference in triglyceride levels when it compared people with MS who were given melatonin and healthy people who weren’t (17).
7Melatonin may reduce inflammation, muscle damage, and oxidative stress. When you exercise at a high intensity, a number of beneficial events occur (which is why we do it). But there are some negative effects too. Three of these negative effects are inflammation, muscle damage, and oxidative stress. To be completely accurate, there are benefits to inflammation and muscle damage as well, but too much inflammation can cause issues.
Without inflammation and muscle damage, there could be no muscle hypertrophy. But too much inflammation and muscle damage can inhibit recovery and prevent you from training properly over the next few days. A 2011 found that taking melatonin before exercise led to a reduction in oxidative stress and inflammation, and a reduction in muscle damage (18).
8Melatonin may reduce Cortisol. This next benefit is debatable, some studies have found that melatonin can increase Cortisol production during the day, while other studies have found that Cortisol can be lowered if melatonin is taken at night (19, 20).
Cortisol is often seen as a bad thing, particularly chronically high cortisol levels. But when cortisol is within normal parameters it can be beneficial. It can help manage blood pressure, and reduce inflammation. High levels of cortisol should be reduced, and melatonin before bed may help in that regard.
9Melatonin may improve memory while stressed. When we are stressed, our memory can be negatively affected. A study in Psychopharmacology by Rimmele et al(2009) found that a single oral dose of 3mg melatonin led to “enhanced recognition memory accuracy of objects encoded under stress” (21).
Their theory as to why this would be the case was that melatonin can dampen hormonal responses to stress.
10Melatonin supplementation can increase Leptin and lower appetite. Leptin is a hormone that is produced in adipose (fat) cells, its main function is to reduce appetite and prevent overeating. The main goal of Leptin is to achieve homeostasis (energy balance). Melatonin may have an effect on Leptin production.
A 2013 study looked at the effect of melatonin in non-alcoholics who were suffering from fatty liver (22). The study found that melatonin supplementation led to an increase in Leptin secretion. This, and studies like it have led scientists to theorise that melatonin supplementation can actually lead to weight loss.
A study on rats who had had the pineal gland removed found that even with exercise they stopped losing weight, and actually gained body fat (23).
The pineal gland is where melatonin is produced, this could indicate that melatonin has an important role in fat loss, or at least weight management. Improved sleep has often been linked to weight loss due to the effect that it has on leptin and ghrelin (the “hunger” hormone).
A 2004 study looked at the effect of bad sleep on leptin and ghrelin, it found that limited sleep led to a reduction in leptin and an increase in Ghrelin (24). This would lead to increased hunger between meals, and a reduced feeling of satiety after eating – which could obviously lead to overeating and therefore weight gain.
11Melatonin may help reduce stomach ulcers. Stomach ulcers occur when your stomach lining becomes damaged due to the layer protecting it from stomach acid breaks down (25).
This can be caused by infection or through taking too much aspirin or anti-inflammatory drugs. Melatonin supplementation appears to reduce the risk of stomach ulcers occurring (26).
It seems that Melatonin is an excellent protection and treatment against stomach ulcers.
There does not appear to be any side effects to taking melatonin whatsoever.
There does not appear to be any form of tolerance when taken for long periods of time, nor are there any withdrawal issues.
There have been reports of headaches, dizziness, but not enough to be conclusive.
According to examine.com the recommended dosage for melatonin starts at 0.5mg but you can increase this to between 3-5mg (31).
It should be taken around 30 minutes before bed.
Is melatonin safe? Yes, melatonin is perfectly safe. It is a naturally occurring molecule in the body that helps regulate circadian rhythms.
Are there foods that contain melatonin? Some foods naturally contain melatonin and are therefore great to have at an evening meal or as a light night time snack. These include: bananas, morello cherries, rice, ginger and barley.
Can you take melatonin during the day to reduce anxiety? It’s not recommended as melatonin can cause you to be drowsy.
Can melatonin help you lose weight? Indirectly, yes. Melatonin can help balance your hormones and your circadian rhythm which can lead to more weight loss.
Can you get melatonin naturally? Yes you can. The best ways are to get sun exposure, meditate and reduce stress levels. You can also eat foods rich in melatonin (see above).
Can melatonin cause weird dreams? Since melatonin causes more REM sleep, it is possible that you can have weird dreams. You dream in the REM state, so more REM means more dreams. More dreams means a higher chance of weird dreams.
Can I naturally produce more melatonin? Yes you can. Avoiding any light at night (except candle light) seems to be the best way to boost melatonin production.
There appear to be many benefits to melatonin supplementation, but more than that there are benefits to naturally high melatonin levels. Most of the benefits we have mentioned are only noticeable in people with lower than average melatonin levels. Trying to sleep better through regular bed times, avoiding electronic light sources prior to bed, and regular exercise etc … would make a big difference to your sleep and melatonin levels.
However, if you are suffering from sleep disorders – particularly ones that are affected by issues such as jet lag, tinnitus, or stress, then melatonin supplementation could be a very effective treatment.
If you are an amateur (or professional) bodybuilder, or a regular gym goer, then melatonin supplementation may have some additional benefits. The increase in blood flow, reduction in muscle damage, reduction in inflammation, and spike in growth hormone secretion can all help with recovery from exercise, improved hypertrophy, and improved strength gains.
Improved sleep is also crucial to recovery, this is why many athletes sleep much more than sedentary people (32).
You could view melatonin as an excellent supplement for optimal recovery. Helping to increase sleep quality, reduce inflammation and muscle damage, and increase blood flow will really help you after a tough gym session.
Regulation of cortisol (which can spike after high intensity exercise) could also be beneficial, particularly if the athlete in question is also stressed or anxious. While melatonin does not appear to have much of an effect on anxiety, improving your sleep quality can help indirectly reduce anxiety.
Insomnia is an awful condition that can have many far-reaching issues. Increased cortisol, increased body fat accumulation, increased risk of mortality, and a reduction in cognitive function are all associated with poor sleep. Many of the drugs prescribed for insomnia have side effects and while they are often more effective, they may not suit everyone. Melatonin seems like a very safe, and effective drug to combat insomnia.