The Benefits and Uses of Melatonin

more than just a sleep supplement
a sleep mask, two packets of pills, a bunch of lavender and a small bottle of essential oil
© CanStock Photo Inc. / [kriss1605]


Melatonin (5-Methoxy-N-acetyltryptamine) is a natural hormone released by the pineal gland in the brain, and it is most commonly known for its effect on sleep.1 It is available to take as a supplement, but in the body, it’s synthesized from tryptophan (the amino acid found in turkey that causes drowsiness after holiday dinners).2 As the day grows darker, the pineal gland produces and secretes more melatonin; and as the morning sun rises, this release is turned off to allow you to wake from sleep and start your day.3 This production and release of melatonin in response to light helps with initiating and cycling through the stages of sleep, letting you feel rested in the morning.4

In northern climates like Canada, where we navigate short and dark winter days, evening habits may be impeding your natural melatonin production. As the sun goes down, we turn on lights to compensate—and instead of giving in to sleep, we stimulate our nervous systems with blue light from phones, tablets, and televisions. Consider setting a “screens off” time and opt for dimmed or lower lighting instead of bright overhead lighting. As spring approaches and the days become longer, you may find you are feeling more productive in the evenings as natural melatonin release is delayed. Keep in mind that having a good bedtime routine during this time of year will allow you to experience the benefits of your natural melatonin production.



Supplementing melatonin has been popularized by its association with improved sleep, but it’s being researched for other benefits as well. For instance, it is claimed to decrease the side effects of jet lag, support sleep for shift workers, and lower blood pressure in people with hypertension.



Does melatonin actually improve sleep? A review of the literature published in January 2022 concluded that using melatonin in a supplement form did have positive effects on sleep quality, as assessed by the Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index.5 Other studies have concluded that melatonin had a modest effect on sleep, but with less benefits when compared to pharmacological treatments for insomnia. However, given its low side effect profile, melatonin may be a valuable option to consider.6 Remember, health care should be individualized. What works for you may not work for your friends, family, or spouse. If you are struggling with your sleep, start by discussing your concerns with your health care provider and ask them if melatonin is an option for you.


Jet Lag

Travel can be such a wonderful hobby, but jet lag can definitely impact the enjoyment of your destination. Jet lag is the result of the body’s internal rhythms being out of alignment with the day-night cycle from travelling through time zones. A review of the research available concluded that once you’ve arrived at your destination, taking melatonin around your ideal bedtime can prevent or reduce jet lag.7 This may be particularly helpful for people who are travelling across time zones for work or hoping to get the most out of a short vacation.


woman sleeping on a plane next to the window
Photo by Ethan Sykes from Unsplash


Shift Work

People who work night shifts are awake during their higher melatonin production times and attempt to sleep and restore their energy during the day. Shift work has been connected to the suppression of melatonin production, especially for people on fixed night shifts.8 Shift work has also been connected to higher rates of obesity, hypertension, and insulin resistance.9 As of June 2019, the International Agency for Research on Cancer concluded that night shift work is probably carcinogenic to humans—it’s labelled as a Group 2A carcinogen.10 While more research into this connection is required, some evidence does support the use of melatonin supplementation for damage control.11


Blood Pressure

Studies looking at patients with cardiovascular disease discovered that they had lower levels of natural melatonin. And studies looking at treatment using melatonin supplementation noted decreased blood pressure in people with hypertension.12,13 This does not mean you should drop your blood pressure medication and start taking melatonin. If you are interested in adding melatonin to your treatment plan, talk to your health care provider so you can be monitored safely.



Is it safe to supplement melatonin? Melatonin has generally been regarded as having a high safety profile and is often well-tolerated, but it should always be taken under the supervision of your health care provider. Side effects that have been reported with melatonin can include drowsiness, nausea, headache, and dizziness.14 What I have seen most often in practice is very vivid dreams, which some people tolerate, and others do not. Having a consistent, calming bedtime routine may help alleviate this side effect.

A study published earlier this year in the Journal of American Medical Association found that the rates of supplementing with melatonin significantly increased in adults in the United States from 1999 to 2018.15 The recommended doses are typically 5 mg per day or less, but higher doses are available and may be recommended in some cases. Ask your doctor what dose is right for you.


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You May Also Like: Back to School Sleep Tips, Sleep Science: Why Sleeping is Important, A Dose of Magnesium for Sleep.

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