Can You Use Melatonin for Anxiety?
Melatonin supplements can help with sleep problems, but it's unclear if they can help anxiety. Here's what the experts want you to know.
Taking melatonin for sleep — in particular, delayed sleep-phase syndrome, where you have trouble falling asleep — is well-documented. However, evidence that it can help for anxiety is limited. “There have not been any studies that show that taking melatonin every day is an effective treatment for generalized anxiety, social anxiety, things like that,” says Eric Rafla-Yuan, a clinical professor in the department of psychiatry at the University of California San Diego.
That said, there is some research that suggests there are benefits in specific circumstances. For example, a 2015 study published in Cochrane Systematic Review-Intervention that looked at 12 randomized controlled trials found that, when compared to a placebo, melatonin could reduce anxiety before a medical procedure, such as a hysterectomy or cataract surgery.
“Melatonin gets the brain ready for sleep, and this is possibly what helps with the anxiety. It triggers our brain that it’s time for relaxation and winding down,” says Rafla-Yuan, who works with patients to help them manage their anxiety with medical and dental procedures.
(Related: How to Know If Your Anxiety Is “Normal”)
Melatonin may be helpful for sleep-relaxed anxiety
Even though the evidence specifically linking melatonin to anxiety is weak, it could still be a helpful tool, especially if your anxiety is sleep-related. “When we think about insomnia, a lot of insomnia can be related to anxiety with racing minds and that kind of thing.” says Melinda Ring, executive director of the Osher Center for Integrative Medicine at Northwestern University in Chicago. On the flip side, if you don’t get enough sleep, you have the potential to be more anxious the next day.
“We do know that it tends to be a cycle. People with insomnia, especially chronic insomnia, tend to have worse depression and worse anxiety. And we also know that people with depression and anxiety tend to have worse sleep,” says Rafla-Yuan.
Alex Dimitriu, MD, double board-certified in psychiatry and sleep medicine and founder of Menlo Park Psychiatry & Sleep Medicine, adds that melatonin has been shown to improve sleep quality, which may also help the brain better restore itself at night and be better equipped to handle daily stress and dips in mood.
Should you consider melatonin for anxiety?
If you have generalized anxiety, melatonin is not considered a go-to treatment. “It’s actually not something that would be a first-line recommendation from me, in terms of anxiety, unless it’s sleep-related anxiety issues,” says Ring, adding that other supplements, like lemon balm, lavender, or chamomile, could be more beneficial.
Ring recommends always talking to a health-care provider before trying any new supplements.
When you should avoid melatonin
Ring cautions you shouldn’t take melatonin alongside other sedatives without doctor supervision and that if you have a history of seizures you should also work with a doctor to see if melatonin is appropriate for you. Melatonin can also interact with other medications like blood thinners.
Rafla-Yuan notes that melatonin has not been as well-studied in infants and children, and so people in those age groups should not take it without a doctor’s support. People who are pregnant or breastfeeding should also avoid melatonin, adds Ring.
Side effects of melatonin
If sleep issues are contributing to your anxiety, and you want to try melatonin, there’s likely no harm, says Rafla-Yuan. “Melatonin has really low side effects, especially when compared to other sleeping medications. So it is always a medication I recommend folks try if they think they would be helped by sleep medication.”
General side effects of melatonin include headache or dizziness, nausea, drowsiness, depression, or exacerbation of depression. “In fact, some people even have anxiety or irritability,” says Ring. “All of those are a possibility, but generally it’s well tolerated.”
(Related: Simple Ways Therapists Ward Off Depression)
If you want to try melatonin for anxiety
Melatonin is most commonly purchased over-the-counter in pill, gummy, or liquid form. A range of doses are available — from 0.3 mg to 10 mg and higher — but larger doses aren’t necessarily more effective.
If you’re generally healthy and not taking other medications, Ring says it would likely be safe to try melatonin without talking to a doctor first. It’s important to note though, that the timing and dose can influence its effectiveness, so you may want to work with a doctor regardless.
Remember though, melatonin on its own is not considered a treatment for anxiety and should only be used in conjunction with a number of different measures. “It would fall under lifestyle modifications,” says Rafla-Yuan. “We know that sleep, diet, and exercise are all important parts of a comprehensive anxiety treatment plan. There are other medications for anxiety specifically that we would also consider. Psychotherapy can also be an important part of the treatment plan as well.”