If you experience migraines regularly, you likely understand the importance of finding a treatment that works. For some people, migraines can be a debilitating chronic health condition.
There are several prescription drugs available that can treat migraines effectively. But if you are looking for a more natural approach, there are other options. Melatonin is one of the newest all-natural treatments for migraines. Does it work?
What Is a Migraine?
A migraine isn’t just a bad headache. It’s a causes a collection of neurological symptoms. These symptoms usually include a severe, recurring, throbbing pain in one or both sides of your head.
Your symptoms may also include:
- visual disturbances
- sensitivity to light, sound, touch, or smell
- tingling in your extremities or face
A migraine attack can last anywhere from four to 72 hours. Unlike occasional headaches, chronic migraines are classified as a disease.
What Is Melatonin?
Melatonin is a hormone that’s secreted by the pineal gland in your brain. It makes you feel sleepy and helps you fall asleep.
Your body doesn’t produce melatonin in sunlight or bright environments. It starts releasing melatonin at night, when it gets dark, or in dimly lit environments. According to the National Sleep Foundation, the level of melatonin in your blood is typically elevated for about 12 hours. It usually rises sharply around 9 p.m. It typically falls to low levels by 9 a.m.
How Can Melatonin Help with Migraines?
Migraines are a neurological condition. They may be caused by changes in your brainstem or imbalances in your brain chemicals. These can be triggered by a variety of things. Getting too much sleep or not enough sleep may trigger migraines in some people.
A study published in the journal Headache found that patients with chronic migraines had abnormally low levels of melatonin byproducts in their urine. This supports earlier research that linked low melatonin to migraines. It suggests that taking melatonin supplements may help prevent or treat migraines.
In fact, research on melatonin has produced mixed results. One promising study published in the journal Neurology found that daily 3-mg doses of melatonin helped reduce the frequency of migraines. More than three-quarters of the research participants reported experiencing at least 50 percent fewer migraine attacks. Melatonin therapy also appeared to reduce the length of migraine attacks, as well as the severity. "Melatonin was effective in reducing the number of headache days per month," the authors concluded.
Another more recent study in the journal Neurology found that placebo treatments were just as effective as melatonin for preventing migraines. Research participants received a placebo or extended-release melatonin an hour before bedtime. After eight weeks, they switched treatment protocols. Both treatment protocols appeared to reduce the frequency of migraine attacks.
More research on melatonin as a treatment for migraines is needed. In the meantime, speak with your doctor to learn if melatonin may be an appropriate treatment option for you.
So far, melatonin has only been studied as a preventive therapy for migraine headaches in adults. Studies have examined the effectiveness of taking 3 mg of melatonin per day, between 10 p.m. and 11 p.m. These studies have looked at short-term melatonin therapy, lasting up to eight weeks. It’s not known if melatonin can safely be used to prevent or treat migraines on a long-term basis.
Melatonin doesn't have any known major side effects. It can interact with a lot of common medications, such as zolpidem (Ambien) or fluvoxamine. Be sure to talk to your doctor before starting any kind of melatonin therapy for migraines. Tell them about any medications or supplements that you’re already taking.
Other Remedies to Treat Migraines
To reduce your risk of a migraine or to help you overcome a migraine, it may help to:
- Eat every two hours. Skipping meals or fasting can trigger a migraine.
- Avoid aged cheeses, salty foods, processed foods, monosodium glutamate, and the sweetener aspartame. All of these foods and ingredients have been found to trigger migraines in some people.
- Reduce your alcohol and caffeine intake.
- Reduce your stress level. Stress is a major trigger for migraine attacks, so self-care and stress management techniques are incredibly important for treating and preventing migraines.
- Recognize and limit your exposure to sensory stimuli that trigger your migraines, such as bright lights, sun glare, loud sounds, or unusual smells. Know your own triggers and try to avoid them.
- Minimize sleep disturbances. For example, keep your room quiet, cool, dark, and pet-free while you’re sleeping.
- Rule out medications that may be triggering your migraines. For example, some birth control pills and vasodilators, such as nitroglycerin, can aggravate migraines.
Many medications may help you prevent or treat migraines. Prescription pain relievers, anti-nausea medications, and other drugs may help relieve your symptoms. Antidepressants may help stabilize your brain chemistry. Some cardiovascular medications, antiseizure medications, and other drugs may also help prevent migraines. A new class of medications called CGRP antagonists has been designed specifically to prevent migraines. If you’re experiencing migraines on a regular basis, be sure to speak with your doctor about treatment options, including melatonin.