Will A Melatonin Supplement Help You Sleep Better?

The irony of writing an article on melatonin supplementation and sleep quality at 3 am in the morning is not lost on me.

Or perhaps that’s not irony at all, I never really know how to use the word properly.

And while I could look into it, I opted to look into melatonin instead.

Why? Well, there is a great deal of hype surrounding the use of exogenous melatonin as a means to improve sleep quality in those for whom it is lacking.

Melatonin, for those who may not know, is a hormone released by the pineal gland and is responsible for regulating your sleep-wake cycle.

Why Do People Take Melatonin  Supplements?

The value of sleep to health, quality of life and functionality is among the least contested or controversial claims in the field of health.

If you regularly sleep poorly, you are probably either experiencing the effects right now or in for something unpleasant somewhere down the line.

If this sounds like you, take some solace in the fact that you aren’t alone.

According to the CDC, 1 in 3 Americans do not get enough sleep.

Among this significant number of people exists a fraction whose lack of sleep is due to more than just insufficient time allotment.

That’s where a potential interest in melatonin as seemingly benign natural remedy may enter the fray.

Melatonin Use In America

And the interest is not minor either.

Behind only omega-3 fatty acids, probiotics and glucosamine – Melatonin is the fourth most purchased Natural Health Product in the US.

As someone who has a history of poor sleep, I can hardly blame the American population for pursuing what appears on the surface to be a potentially effective natural health solution.

But is it?

Melatonin & Sleep Studies

The majority of the higher quality studies that I encountered looked at the impact of melatonin supplementation on either primary or secondary sleep disorders.

Primary sleep disorders describe disruptions in sleep not related to medication or any explicit mental or physical cause, which may be akin to what the “average” person is dealing with.

Secondary sleep disorders describe disruptions in sleep that are related to a known cause, such as medication or a physical condition.

Primary Sleep Disorders

A 2013 meta analysis out of the PLoS One Journal  found that although melatonin was not as efficacious as conventional pharmacological treatments, evidence exists to suggest that it can improve how quickly one falls asleep and modestly improve sleep quality and quantity.

The far less significant side effects of melatonin as compared to traditional medication appear to make it an appealing option, according to the authors.

Similar outcomes  as it related to sleep quality and quantity were found in a 2015 systematic review and meta analysis out of the Value In Health journal.

Secondary Sleep Disorders

Fresh off the presses, a 2019 systematic review and meta analysis out of the Frontiers In Neuroendocrinology journal came to similar conclusions regarding melatonin’s efficacy in the management of secondary sleep disorders.

That is to say, some potential benefit seems to be apparent but it is not necessarily overwhelming in magnitude.

Buyer Beware

While it appears that melatonin supplementation holds at least some promise in both common categories of sleep disorder management, the natural health product market poses its own unique set of issues.

According to a 2017 market integrity review conducted in the Journal Of Clinical Sleep Medicine – nearly 7 in 10 melatonin supplements did not contain the content described on the label.

I recommend reviewing the study, hyperlinked above, to learn more.

Additionally, some consideration should be given to any potential side effects associated with the use of such supplements.

Final Thoughts

Hopefully I’ve given you something to sleep on here when it comes to considering the efficacy of melatonin for sleep quality and quantity.

Today’s blog is certainly not a vigorous review of the scientific literature on melatonin, nor it is intended to be prescriptive or suggestive in any way.

The post does, however, provide credence to the fact that there may be something to melatonin supplementation.

If it interests you, or even if it doesn’t but you are  suffering from sleep issues, you should strongly consider consulting a healthcare professional about the treatment options at your disposal.

Until next time,

Andy De Santis RD MPH