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Does melatonin for anxiety work? There is some evidence that melatonin might be good for anxiety. There can also be side effects and other things to know about using a melatonin supplement to treat anxiety symptoms.
Why Would You Use Melatonin for Anxiety?
Melatonin is a hormone. Your body produces it naturally. Specifically, the pineal gland produces melatonin. The pineal gland is located in your brain. It regulates sleep patterns.
When it’s dark, your body produces more melatonin. This helps you fall asleep. When it’s light, you produce less.
You can also take melatonin as an over-the-counter supplement to help you if you have sleep problems.
Melatonin may have both direct and indirect effects on anxiety as well.
How is Melatonin Useful for Anxiety?
There have been a few studies that have given the indication melatonin might help with anxiety.
- In an animal study in 2017, melatonin increased brain levels of GABA. Higher GABA levels are associated with reduced anxiety and a calming effect in the brain. Some anxiety medicines, like benzodiazepines, also increase GABA levels in the brain.
- There was a review of clinical studies in 2015. Before surgery, the use of melatonin was compared to using midazolam, which is a benzodiazepine, or a placebo sugar pill. The melatonin worked about the same as prescription anxiety medicine before the surgery and better than the placebo.
- A 2018 study found melatonin worked as well as alprazolam to mitigate anxiety before surgery.
- There was also a study that looked at the effects of melatonin in older people with mood and sleep disorders. That study found the melatonin was more effective than a placebo to reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety and improve sleep.
It would make sense that the use of melatonin could potentially alleviate anxiety if you consider the role of GABA in both sleep and anxiety disorders. GABA is what helps your body not just relax but also fall asleep soundly and stay asleep. When you have low GABA, along with being more likely to have anxiety, you’re more likely to have disrupted sleep.
In one study of people with insomnia, GABA levels were nearly 30% lower in those individuals than people with the sleep disorder.
Above are research studies looking at direct links of melatonin for anxiety.
There are indirect links as well.
Melatonin can be helpful for sleep disorders. Getting enough sleep is significantly linked to mental health.
When you sleep, every 90 minutes, you’re moving between four phases of deep sleep. By the fourth phase, your body is creating changes that prepare your nervous system for the coming day and boost your immune system.
When there are disturbances in your sleep cycles, it affects your brain. Effects of not getting enough quality sleep include:
- The release of high levels of stress hormones
- Impaired cognitive function
- Impairment of emotional regulation
If you take melatonin, it can help you get the sleep you need for overall mental and physical health. That can reduce anxiety because your brain is healthy and ready to take on the day.
What is Anxiety?
When we’re experiencing stressful situations, it’s normal to feel anxiety. Anxiety is a response that helps us stay aware and alert. An anxiety disorder goes well beyond those normal feelings to stress, however.
Symptoms of anxiety include:
- Nervousness or tension
- Having a sense of impending doom or panic
- Increased heart rate
- Breathing rapidly
- Feeling tired or weak
- Concentration problems or brain fog
- Sleep disturbances
- Gastrointestinal problems
- Uncontrollable worries
- Avoiding things that trigger anxiety
Anxiety disorders include:
- Generalized anxiety disorder is the most common of these disorders. It’s characterized by excessive, pervasive worry about even normal, everyday activities. The worry is out-of-proportion to the actual situation. It’s common for someone to have generalized anxiety disorder along with other types of anxiety or depression.
- Panic disorder includes episodes of sudden anxiety or terror. Panic attacks usually peak within minutes and may include intense physical symptoms like heart palpitations and shortness of breath.
- Social anxiety is also called social phobia. Someone with social anxiety will likely experience high levels of fear and anxiety in social situations because of fear of embarrassment or being judged by others.
Are There Side Effects of Melatonin?
If you’re considering melatonin for anxiety or another reason, it’s largely safe. There aren’t any known serious side effects. Melatonin, unlike some over the counter and prescription sleep aids, doesn’t seem to lead to dependence or withdrawal symptoms either.
That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t speak to your doctor before taking melatonin for anxiety or sleep, however. You should talk to your doctor about any supplement before taking it.
Some people may experience mild symptoms, such as headaches, nausea, or dizziness.
There is some concern among doctors that long-term melatonin use could reduce your body’s natural production, but there is currently no evidence or research available indicating that’s the case.
Melatonin can interact with some medicines, including blood thinners and blood pressure medications. It can also interact with other medicines causing sleepiness.
Taking Melatonin for Anxiety During the Day
The big downside of using melatonin for anxiety is that you should only take it before you’re going to bed. Taking it in the daytime for something like a panic attack or short-term anxiety relief probably isn’t a good idea.
Melatonin needs to be taken in the evening, and even at low doses, it can cause daytime sleepiness if you take it any other time.
If you take it at night, depending on how fast your body clears it, you may still feel some residual sleepiness in the morning.
How Can You Take Melatonin to Help Anxiety?
If you’re thinking about taking melatonin for anxiety, the typical dosage is usually 1 to 10 mg a day, but there isn’t a standardized optimal dose.
Taking a higher dose than 10 mg doesn’t show any benefits that we know of right now.
What’s most important is that first, you follow the dosage instructions of the product itself. You should also look for high-quality melatonin supplements.
There are also ways you can naturally increase your melatonin levels without taking a supplement. For example, a few hours before going to bed, stop watching electronics. The blue light can be disruptive to your sleep. Artificial light reduces your brain’s production of melatonin.
If you get a lot of natural light during the day, it can also help your sleep-wake cycles.
Melatonin for anxiety may work, but you should speak to your doctor. Melatonin for anxiety should be taken right before bed, so it’s not a good supplement if you’re worried about daytime anxiety. Along with directly impacting GABA levels to alleviate anxiety, melatonin can also help you get better sleep quality, which can help reduce anxiety symptoms.
It’s important to note as well that while anxiety is a common mental health disorder, if you are experiencing it you should speak to your doctor. A doctor can help you uncover the underlying cause of your anxiety and create a treatment plan.