The pineal gland in the brain produces the sleep hormone melatonin in response to darkness. Melatonin helps regulate the body’s circadian rhythm, which is the internal process that involves the sleep-wake cycle every 24 hours.
When the pineal gland releases melatonin into the bloodstream, the hormone binds to certain receptors in the brain and the body.
Melatonin levels increase in the evening when it gets dark outside. The brain senses darkness, which signals a message to produce more melatonin. Light exposure may slow or stop the production.
The article below provides ways to boost levels in the body, an in-depth look at natural vs. synthetic melatonin, and the health benefits and risks.
A note about sex and gender
Sex and gender exist on spectrums. This article will use the terms “male,” “female,” or both to refer to sex assigned at birth. Click here to learn more.
Melatonin promotes the transition from wakefulness to sleep. In addition to sleep, melatonin may also play a role in other body processes, such as reducing the effects of a migraine episode or jet lag.
However, additional studies are needed to fully understand the health benefits.
Although the brain makes melatonin, the level or the amount made may vary depending on a few factors, including:
- lifestyle factors
Certain methods may boost the production of melatonin naturally and promote better sleep, including these tips:
Get some sunlight
It may seem counterproductive to get sunlight to produce melatonin, but it may help.
The body produces the neurotransmitter serotonin in response to sunlight. Serotonin plays a role in the production of melatonin. Getting sunlight may help in the production of melatonin at night.
Learn more about the benefits of sunlight.
Eat tryptophan-rich foods
The amino acid tryptophan helps produce serotonin. Serotonin binds with certain enzymes to produce melatonin. Food containing tryptophan includes:
Read on for other foods that boost serotonin naturally.
Take a warm bath
Relaxing in a warm bath may boost melatonin levels. As the body relaxes, cortisol levels might decrease, which may allow melatonin to increase.
Read about the benefits of hot vs. cold showers.
Limit artificial light
Getting natural light during the day is helpful to produce serotonin and in turn melatonin.
However, exposure to artificial light, including blue light, at night, may interfere with melatonin production. Electronic devices that emit blue light include cells phones, televisions, and laptop screens.
Melatonin supplements sold are either natural melatonin or synthetic. Supplements are available in the form of:
The main difference between supplements and natural melatonin involves the source. A laboratory makes synthetic melatonin as opposed to the body producing it naturally. Natural melatonin available comes from the pineal gland of an animal. Although, this natural type carries the risk of contamination from viruses or bacteria.
Synthetic melatonin is a dietary supplement, but the FDA does not
However, melatonin receptor agonists such as ramelteon and tasimelteon are FDA-approved to treat sleep disorders such as insomnia.
Melatonin is used to treat sleep problems in people ages 55 and over and in children.
In addition to helping with sleep, melatonin may have additional health benefits, such as:
Jet lag may occur when crossing time zones. The body’s internal clock is not in sync with the local time, which causes fatigue, impaired daytime functioning, and disturbed sleep.
According to the
Read on about other ways to recover from jet lag.
Migraine causes intense head pain, nausea, and light sensitivity. Some evidence indicates that melatonin may help prevent migraine episodes.
The current research surrounding the efficacy of melatonin in preventing migraine is growing but still limited.
Read more about the stages of a migraine to recovery.
Many people experience anxiety before surgery.
In some cases, doctors administer anti-anxiety medication to calm nerves. Some
Learn other ways to treat anxiety.
Treatment in traumatic brain injuries (TBI)
Melatonin crosses the blood-brain barrier meaning it can affect the brain. A
Melatonin appears to have few side effects if used short-term in adults. Possible mild side effects include:
- feeling sleepy or tired in the daytime
- feeling dizzy
- feeling irritable or restless
- dry mouth
- dry or itchy skin
- pains in arms or legs
- strange dreams or night sweats
Serious side effects are rare and happen to less than 1 in 1,000 people.
Speak to a doctor as soon as possible if a person:
- gets blurry vision or eyes become more watery than usual
- feels faint or passes out
- starts feeling confused or dizzy, or experiencing vertigo
- has unexplained bruising
- has blood in the urine
Safety for children
The side effects in children appear similar to those in adults. In addition, some children may experience a
It is best to try different lifestyle changes or speak with a doctor before giving melatonin to a child.
Read more about whether melatonin is safe for children.
Safety during pregnancy
A 2021 review reported that melatonin had some efficacy for certain conditions during pregnancy, specifically hyperglycemia, preeclampsia, and intrauterine growth restriction.
Although the sample sizes were relatively small.
At present, there is also limited evidence to explore the use of melatonin during pregnancy and breastfeeding.
Natural melatonin is a hormone made by the pineal gland in the brain. The hormone helps regulate the sleep-wake cycle. Additional benefits from melatonin may include helping reduce anxiety before surgery, preventing a migraine, and treating jet lag.
As with all supplements, it is best to talk with a healthcare professional before taking them to weigh the risks vs. the benefits.