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Melatonin is a hormone that your body makes naturally. It’s produced by the pineal gland, an organ in your brain that controls sleeping patterns.
When it’s dark, your body produces more melatonin and helps you fall asleep. When it’s light, your body produces less melatonin.
Melatonin is also available as an over-the-counter supplement. Clinical studies have shown that these supplements can be effective in treating sleep problems.
Researchers are also studying melatonin for other uses, including anxiety. Some speculate that melatonin may improve anxiety by improving sleep. It may also have a more direct effect on anxiety symptoms.
Read on to learn more about how it may work, how to use it, potential side effects, and more.
In addition to improving sleep, melatonin has other effects that might improve symptoms of anxiety.
Other medications commonly used for anxiety, such as benzodiazepines, also increase GABA levels.
Most of the human research on melatonin has been done in people who are undergoing a surgical procedure.
It’s common for people to feel anxious before surgery and medications such as benzodiazepines are typically used to reduce these symptoms.
In a 2015 analysis of clinical studies, melatonin was compared to either midazolam or a placebo sugar pill when given before surgery.
Most of the studies analyzed found that taking melatonin worked better than a placebo pill and about as well as midazolam for reducing anxiety before the procedure.
Some studies also found that melatonin reduced symptoms of anxiety after surgery, but other studies found no benefit.
In another 2018 study, melatonin was evaluated in people who had just undergone a medical procedure to open up blood vessels in the heart. In this study, melatonin worked better than oxazepam for improving sleep and reducing symptoms of anxiety.
One older study also evaluated the effects of melatonin in older adults with sleep and mood disorders. In this study, melatonin worked better than a placebo sugar pill to improve sleep and decrease symptoms of depression and anxiety.
The bottom line
Research shows that melatonin can be effective at reducing anxiety before surgical or medical procedures.
But it isn’t clear if it can help with other forms of anxiety, such as generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety, and panic attacks.
Melatonin supplements are available in tablets that are taken by mouth and pills that are placed under the tongue (sublingual pills).
The most effective dose for improving symptoms of anxiety isn’t clear.
Clinical studies have successfully used 3 to 10 milligram (mg) doses, usually taken just before bedtime. Higher doses haven’t been shown to work better.
When selecting a melatonin supplement, look for products that are known to be high quality.
For example, some melatonin supplements are verified by the United States Pharmacopeia. This means that they reliably contain what’s listed on the label and are free of contaminants.
Most people who take melatonin don’t experience any troublesome side effects.
When unwanted side effects do occur, they’re usually mild. They may include:
- upset stomach
Although melatonin can cause sleepiness, it usually doesn’t impair thinking or coordination like benzodiazepines and other anti-anxiety medications.
Melatonin might interact with other medications, including:
- blood thinners
- blood pressure medication
- other medications that cause sleepiness
If you take these or other medications, talk with a doctor or pharmacist before using melatonin. They may be able to recommend an alternative medication.
Talk to a doctor before use if you have received an organ transplant or have a seizure disorder.
There are many different forms of anxiety. In some situations, anxiety may be temporary and related to an upcoming interview, conflict with a friend or a loved one, or a stressful project at work or school.
A doctor or other healthcare provider can help you identify the underlying cause and work with you to develop a treatment plan that best suits your needs.
Although melatonin can help improve sleep, it’s unclear how well it works for most types of anxiety. If your symptoms are more severe, you may receive the most benefit from a tried-and-true treatment option.