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.

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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:

  • age
  • gender
  • genetics
  • 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.

A 2019 study found that 2 hours of exposure to blue light at night suppressed melatonin production.

Read on about ways to avoid blue light with glasses.

Melatonin supplements sold are either natural melatonin or synthetic. Supplements are available in the form of:

  • chewable
  • liquid
  • pill

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 regulate supplements. As a result, FDA does not approve melatonin for any use.

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

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 National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, small studies show melatonin supplements may help reset the sleep-wake cycle in people with jet lag.

Read on about other ways to recover from jet lag.

Migraine

Migraine causes intense head pain, nausea, and light sensitivity. Some evidence indicates that melatonin may help prevent migraine episodes.

A 2019 systematic review found that melatonin supplements appear as a promising intervention to prevent migraine.

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.

Preoperative anxiety

Many people experience anxiety before surgery.

In some cases, doctors administer anti-anxiety medication to calm nerves. Some research suggests that melatonin may work as effectivity as standard anti-anxiety medication to reduce pre-surgery anxiety in adults.

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 research review indicates that melatonin may have a protective role in the injured part of the central nervous system, which promotes healing after a TBI.

Find out more about TBIs causes, effects, and treatments.

Melatonin appears to have few side effects if used short-term in adults. Possible mild side effects include:

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:

Safety for children

The side effects in children appear similar to those in adults. In addition, some children may experience a higher risk of bedwetting, headaches, and dizziness. These symptoms resolved after stopping treatment.

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.