Health & Wellness

Improving Sleep, Reducing Stress, and More: The Many Ways Melatonin Benefits Your Health

If you’ve ever had trouble sleeping and decided to do a little research on your own, you’ve likely heard about how melatonin benefits your health by improving your ability to fall and stay asleep.

But did you know that melatonin does so much more than that? The simple truth is that melatonin benefits your health in many ways—from aiding sleep quality to reducing your stress levels and more!

So, let’s take a look at melatonin and learn all about what it is, how it works, and how you can use it to support your overall health!

 

What is Melatonin?

When you think about melatonin, you probably picture a supplement bottle, right? Well, you may be surprised to learn that melatonin is actually a hormone naturally produced by your body or, more specifically, your brain.

You see, upon experiencing darkness, your brain produces melatonin about two hours before your typical bedtime to help ready your body for sleep. Likewise, your brain ceases this production when exposed to light. [1] (This is why I often recommend sleeping in a dark room, away from all screens, which can disrupt your melatonin production.)

Because melatonin is produced in order to promote sleep, it’s often referred to as the “sleep hormone.” Its primary job is to “cue” your body that it’s time to rest. [2]

What Impacts Melatonin Production?

So, it all sounds pretty simple, right? Theoretically, based on what you just learned above, your body should naturally produce melatonin at nighttime and cease production when the sun comes up. But, as with most things in life, it’s isn’t quite so straightforward.

As we now know, stress (both emotional and physiological) has quite an impact on both your body and your brain. So, naturally, it should come as no surprise that the very stress we experience each day also impacts melatonin production.

In fact, studies have shown that stress negatively influences the synthesis of melatonin in the brain, which impacts when melatonin is released. Researchers noted in a 2014 study that this effect may be caused by increased levels of cortisol (the hormone your body secretes in response to stress). [3]

And, if you think about it, this makes sense. Think back to my “bear scenario.” If you actively being chased by a bear (an analogy for dealing with the stress we encounter every single day), you aren’t going to stop to notice that it’s getting dark. And you definitely aren’t going to be able to stop and rest.

Your body is in “fight-or-flight” mode, which is the exact opposite of being in a restful state. So, if your brain is focused on running from the bear (or, more relevantly, actively dealing with work, family, or health concerns), your cortisol production is high and your brain won’t take the time to produce as much melatonin as it otherwise would.

As a result, your body won’t get the “cue” that it’s time to rest. What’s more, though, is that this melatonin production fluctuates due to changing cortisol levels. So, you may find yourself feeling the typical symptoms of adrenal fatigue, such as daytime drowsiness or fatigue.

It’s at this point that many people seek out sleeping aids. And, as a result, they eventually consider taking melatonin supplements. Now, melatonin supplements have been shown to help reduce your levels of dopamine, which you can think of as the “excitement hormone” that helps keep you awake. [4]

As a result, millions of Americans tout the amazing sleep-related benefits of melatonin. But there are other melatonin benefits as well. Let’s take a look at some of the popular and even some of the more overlooked melatonin benefits so you can learn more about this hormone.

Top 5 Melatonin Benefits

Here are five of the top melatonin benefits for your health.

1. Improved sleep quality

So, as we’ve been discussing, melatonin benefits your health by supporting your body’s ability to get ready for rest. But, specifically, melatonin has been found to help improve your sleep quality—something that’s incredibly important for your overall health.

According to a 2013 meta-analysis of 19 studies, taking melatonin significantly improved sleep quality in comparison to taking a placebo. [5]

And really makes sense: If your body is prepared for sleep, you’re more likely to have restorative sleep that causes you to awake feeling refreshed.

2. Helps manage cortisol levels

Another one of the incredible melatonin benefits we need to review is that it actually helps to manage cortisol levels in your body.

Now, I know this might sound a little confusing, especially since we just discussed how stress and heightened cortisol levels impact your melatonin production. But the truth of the matter is that just as cortisol impacts melatonin, melatonin can impact cortisol!

In fact, one study revealed that when eight seniors with insomnia who were known to have low or delayed melatonin production were given supplemental melatonin, it rectified their early onset cortisol production. [6]

The researchers also stated that the delay in cortisol release not only benefits sleep quality but also the control of blood pressure, metabolism, and even mood!

3. Supports vision and eye health

Believe it or not, melatonin benefits your eye health as well! You may be surprised to learn this, but this benefit occurs because melatonin is also synthesized in your eyes—specifically in your retina.

Remember, your eyes are responsible for regulating your circadian rhythms based on their intake of light and darkness. And because melatonin also contains antioxidant properties, it’s able to help protect your eyes from damage from oxidative stress, such as degenerative diseases in your eyes.

In fact, several studies have shown that melatonin may play a protective role against age-related macular degeneration. [7]

One study looked at the effect of melatonin supplementation on age-related macular degeneration. In the study, 100 patients with either wet or dry age-related macular degeneration took 3 mg of melatonin each night at bedtime for three months, and 55 of those patients continued for more than six months. [8]

The researchers found that after six months, visual acuity (sharpness) remained stable, which is a stark improvement to the suspected natural course of those with age-related macular degeneration.

Moreover, the change of the fundus picture was noted as “remarkable,” while most of the participants experienced reduced pathologic macular changes. As a result, the researchers concluded that taking 3 mg of melatonin daily appeared to protect the retina and delay macular degeneration.

That’s a pretty phenomenal finding, isn’t it?

4. May help fight heartburn

When it comes to melatonin benefits, one of the lesser-known perks is that it’s actually been shown to fight GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease).

According to a 2010 study, 36 people with GERD were divided into four groups (a control group, patients who took melatonin, patients who took omeprazole, and patients who took both melatonin and omeprazole).

Researchers found that, while not as effective as omeprazole, melatonin relieved heartburn and epigastric pain in the participants with GERD both when used alone and in conjunction with omeprazole. [9]

Another study on more than 300 patients revealed that taking melatonin in conjunction with other vitamins was more effective at controlling symptoms of GERD than taking omeprazole! [10]

5. Can help regulate body temperature

As part of your circadian rhythm, your body temperature drops while you’re sleeping. Typically, your temperature runs about a degree or two lower than your regular mid-day body temperature.

This happens because lower body temperature actually helps you not only fall asleep but also stay asleep throughout the night.

Amazingly, taking supplemental melatonin has been shown to lower core body temperature. According to one study, people who took melatonin experienced a 0.05- to 0.3-degree celsius body temperature drop within an hour of taking the supplement. [11]

As a result, the researchers concluded that taking melatonin provides a hypothermic effect that supports better quality sleep.

 

Melatonin benefits - Dr. Pingel

 

Supplementing with Melatonin

So, now you know all about the many melatonin benefits you can expect by taking this supplement. But where do you get it and how do you take it?

Well, you can find melatonin at pretty much any health food or vitamin store near you. Alternatively, it’s pretty easy to find online. That said, just because it’s readily available doesn’t mean you should just go grab a bottle and take it every night.

The simple truth of the matter is that because your cortisol and melatonin levels are so closely linked, you must proceed with caution. Make sure to speak with your physician before starting it, and don’t use it consistently.

You can also support your natural melatonin production by supporting your body’s stress response, which will help to reduce your cortisol levels and, therefore, support your brain’s ability to produce melatonin. Click here for more information on how to get started.

And if you’re having trouble falling asleep, you can also check out my article on sleeplessness for some quick tips you can try right away.

 

Key Takeaways

  • Melatonin is actually a hormone naturally produced by your brain in response to darkness and readies your body for sleep.
  • Five of the top melatonin benefits include: improving sleep quality, managing cortisol levels, supporting vision and eye health, fighting heartburn, and regulating body temperature.
  • Speak with you physician before supplementing with melatonin and make sure to support your body’s stress response by supporting your adrenal health, which will support natural melatonin production.

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