Melatonin is a hormone produced in the pineal gland in your brain. Its production is controlled by your body’s master clock, found in the suprachiasmatic nucleus.
During the day, your melatonin levels are low. But as it gets dark, your optic nerves send signals to the master clock, which signals the brain to begin producing melatonin. You begin to feel sleepy because of the increased melatonin in your blood.
Due to its ability to regulate your sleep-wake cycle, melatonin has become a popular supplement for improved sleep and treating various sleep-related issues, including:
- jet lag
- shift work sleep disorder
- delayed sleep phase disorder
- circadian rhythm sleep disorder
- sleep-wake disturbances
But can these regulating effects have an impact on depression symptoms? The jury’s still out.
There’s no evidence that melatonin causes depression in people with no history of it. A 2016 review of recent melatonin research found no serious negative effects linked to melatonin use.
But some people do experience side effects. Usually, this includes some mild dizziness, nausea, or drowsiness. But in less common cases, some people experienced:
- short-term depression
So far, the consensus seems to be that taking melatonin can cause temporary symptoms of depression. But it won’t cause someone to show prolonged symptoms typical of a diagnosis of major depressive disorder.
The link between melatonin and existing depression isn’t fully understood.
A suggests that people with depression might have higher levels of melatonin. And a 2006 review of multiple studies suggests that the brains of people with depression often produce more melatonin at night.
Remember, melatonin helps your body prepare for sleep. It makes you feel less energized, which is also a common symptom of depression. If you experience low energy as a depression symptom, taking melatonin could potentially make it worse.
While short-term feelings of depression are a rare but possible side effect of melatonin, it’s unclear if it would cause worsening symptoms in someone already diagnosed with depression. Plus, most people who take melatonin — including those with and without depression — don’t experience this side effect.
To make things more confusing, there’s also some evidence that melatonin may actually reduce the risk of depression in certain groups and improve depression symptoms in others.
For example, a suggests that melatonin could reduce the risk of depression for three months following breast cancer surgery.
A 2017 review of eight clinical trials found that melatonin improved symptoms of depression more than a placebo did, but not significantly so. A similarly found that melatonin helped reduce depression symptoms for some people.
In addition, a small 2006 study suggests that melatonin may be more beneficial for seasonal affective disorder (SAD), which involves depression that follows a seasonal pattern. For example, many people with SAD experience depression during the colder months, when days are shorter.
The researchers behind the study found that misaligned circadian rhythms were a significant factor in seasonal depression. Taking low doses of melatonin seemed to help address the misalignment and reduce symptoms.
While all of this research is promising, there still isn’t enough evidence to confirm whether taking melatonin helps with depression symptoms. Much larger studies are needed.
However, if you have depression and find that your symptoms are worse when you don’t get enough sleep, melatonin may be a good thing to keep around. While melatonin may not directly address your depression, it can help you get on a regular sleep schedule, which may help to improve some of your symptoms.
If you’re currently being treated for depression, melatonin may be worth trying in addition to other prescribed treatments.
However, it may be safer to skip melatonin if you take certain medications, including:
- central nervous system depressants, including diazepam (Valium)
- fluvoxamine (Luvox)
- immunosuppressive therapy drugs, including prednisone, methylprednisolone, hydrocortisone, cortisone, dexamethasone, and codeine
If you take medication for depression and are trying to explore more natural options, make sure to do so slowly and under the supervision of your healthcare provider. Abruptly stopping medications, especially antidepressants, can cause serious side effects.
If you want to try using melatonin for depression symptoms, start at a low dose, usually between 1 and 3 milligrams. Make sure to check the manufacturer instructions on the packaging first. You can purchase melatonin on Amazon.
As you take it, pay close attention to your symptoms. If you notice that they might be getting worse, stop taking melatonin.
The relationship between melatonin and depressions symptoms is unclear. For some, it seems to help, but for others, it can make things worse. If you want to give it a try, make sure you start with a low dose and pay close attention to your mind and body while taking it.
While melatonin may help with depression symptoms, there’s no evidence that melatonin alone can treat depression. Make sure to keep up with any other treatment options while trying melatonin, including medication and therapy.
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