Melatonin for Anxiety: Does it Work?

Anxiety Disorder
Read Time: 5 Minutes
Written by:Bisma Anwar, MA, MSc, LMHC

Published On: September 27, 2023

Medically reviewed by: Olga Molina, D.S.W., LCSW

Reviewed On: September 27, 2023

Updated On: September 27, 2023


Anxiety annually affects millions of people worldwide — it’s widely considered the United State’s most prevalent mental health condition. If you’re experiencing anxiety and looking for natural relief, you might have heard about the potential advantages of using melatonin for anxiety. Melatonin is a hormone that plays a critical role in regulating the sleep-wake cycle (aka the circadian rhythm).

It’s commonly used as a sleep aid for those with sleep problems, but does melatonin help anxiety? Read on as we uncover everything about melatonin.

Reader’s note: Be sure to talk to your therapist, psychiatrist, and/or doctor before you start melatonin (especially if you have mental health concerns). While melatonin is an over-the-counter supplement, there may be serious side effects that can affect your mental health in unexpected ways.

Understanding Melatonin and Its Functions

As the sun sets each day, your body naturally secretes melatonin to induce sleepiness. Melatonin production occurs within the pineal gland, a small endocrine gland located deep in the brain. Melatonin levels naturally decrease during daylight hours, so the body and brain know to be awake and alert. Beyond affecting the circadian rhythm, melatonin can act as an antioxidant that studies show can lower oxidative stress in the brain.

The role of melatonin in regulating sleep

Melatonin’s primary role is to regulate sleep patterns to avoid sleep disturbance. Understanding how it works offers insight into how we can use this natural remedy for anxiety-related sleep issues.

  • Natural sleep aid: Melatonin supplements are available over-the-counter (OTC) and can be effective for people with insomnia or jet lag. Taking the supplement before bed helps the body establish a regular sleep pattern and achieve a good night’s sleep. This is an option for people who find themselves having sleep anxiety.
  • Circadian rhythm regulation: Your internal biological clock relies heavily on external cues like light exposure. Factors like shift work or traveling across time zones can disrupt the synchronization process and result in multiple health issues, including mood disorders or poor cognitive function. Melatonin might help reset the circadian rhythm (your 24-hour internal clock).
  • Sleep quality improvement: Research suggests that taking melatonin helps you fall asleep faster, can increase your sleep time, and might reduce nighttime awakenings.

Anxiety and Its Impact on Sleep

Anxiety disorders — like generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety, and panic attacks — can significantly impact sleep. Mood disorders like these have been connected to sleep issues, including difficulty falling or staying asleep, which leads many people to wonder, can melatonin help with anxiety?

iconExpert Insight

““Anxiety can result in issues with sleep, insomnia, and restless sleep. Sleep aids such as melatonin can help alleviate anxiety as well as help with sleep. It is best to talk to providers before starting any sleep medication, as well as melatonin.”
Licensed Mental Health Counselor (LMHC), MA, MSc Bisma Anwar

How anxiety affects your sleep cycle

When we experience heightened stress or anxiety, the body releases stress hormones like cortisol, which can disrupt the circadian rhythm. Stress affects our sleep cycle in several ways — and recent research has linked anxiety to sleep issues. Anxiety can impact aspects of sleep through:

  • Nighttime awakenings: People with anxiety might wake up frequently throughout the night.
  • Racing thoughts: Some people with anxiety have difficulty quieting their minds in the evening. They might ruminate over past events or worry about future obligations. Racing thoughts can make it challenging to relax enough to fall and stay asleep.
  • Sleep onset latency: Anxiety can make it harder to fall asleep when you’re preoccupied with worry.
  • Poor quality REM sleep: Rapid eye movement (REM) is crucial for emotional regulation and cognitive health. When your anxiety disrupts this stage of the sleep cycle, it might result in increased anxiety symptoms.

Poor sleep can have numerous consequences on mental health. It can affect more than just anxiety, too. Not getting adequate sleep can impact your general psychological well-being. Lack of sleep can lead to:

  • Increased irritability
  • Mood swings
  • Difficulty concentrating or focusing
  • Weakened immune system
  • Increased risk of developing additional mood disorders, like depression
  • Impaired work performance
  • Reduced quality of life
  • Relationship stress

Learn more about the relationship between sleep and mental health.

Does Melatonin Help Anxiety?

There’s growing interest in understanding the connection between melatonin and anxiety relief. Research examining the effects of melatonin on mental health conditions like anxiety shows that melatonin might be considered an alternative or additional treatment for conditions associated with anxiety.

What research says about the efficacy of melatonin

Numerous studies have looked into the effectiveness of melatonin supplements in treating anxiety. Some findings suggest melatonin can help by improving sleep quality, creating a preventative effect on depression and anxiety symptoms.

How long does melatonin take to work for anxiety?

Melatonin works relatively quickly when used to promote sleep. Most people report feeling the supplement’s effects within 30 minutes to an hour after taking it. That said, it’s essential to know that melatonin and anxiety improvement might not be as quick. While it can help you fall asleep faster or stay asleep longer, its impact on anxiety likely won’t be dramatic or immediate.

Potential limitations and considerations in the research

Despite promising evidence that supports melatonin might be beneficial for anxiety, we must remember that there are limitations in the research. Studies with small sample sizes or conducted over shorter periods might not offer us the full picture.

Notably, much of the research we have focuses on melatonin’s effect on sleep quality rather than examining its impact on anxiety symptoms over the long term. More extensive research is needed before we can definitively link melatonin to being beneficial in treating anxiety.

How to Use Melatonin for Anxiety

If you’re considering taking melatonin, anxiety symptoms might improve, but you should understand how to use it in your daily routine. Consider the following before you start taking melatonin for anxiety and talk to your doctor first:

  • Choose the correct form: Melatonin is available in various forms, including oral tablets, sprays, gummies, and liquid drops. Choose the best form for you and follow the instructions from the manufacturer or your healthcare provider.
  • Be consistent: Establish a routine for when and how you take melatonin. Take it at the same time each day for optimal results.
  • Prioritize healthy lifestyle habits: Taking melatonin alone won’t be enough for most people. Combining it with other healthy lifestyle habits and natural remedies for anxiety could improve its efficacy and effectiveness against anxiety symptoms. Healthy lifestyle habits may include getting regular exercise, practicing self care like mindfulness, meditation, and yoga, and eating a balanced diet rich in healthy foods.

Potential Side Effects and Interactions

Like all supplements, melatonin has possible consequences and side effects. Common side effects of melatonin include:

  • Daytime Drowsiness: The most common side effect of melatonin is drowsiness.
  • Headache: Some people experience headaches after using melatonin.
  • Nausea: Feeling nauseous or upset stomach is a possible side effect of melatonin.
  • Vivid dreams or nightmares: Melatonin can cause intense dreams or nightmares, which might impact your sleep.
  • Mood changes: In some cases, melatonin supplementation may lead to noticeable shifts in mood, such as increased irritability or changes in emotional stability.
  • Dizziness: A small percentage of individuals may experience dizziness or lightheadedness after taking melatonin.
  • Stomach cramps: Although rare, stomach cramps or abdominal discomfort have been reported as potential side effects of melatonin usage.

In rare cases, there have been more severe reactions, including allergic reactions like hives, difficulty breathing, or swelling of the face, lips, tongue, or throat. If you see any indications of an allergic reaction, get medical help immediately.

Melatonin can interact with other medications, including:

  • Blood thinning medication —anticoagulants
  • Anti-anxiety meds
  • Antidepressants
  • Blood pressure medications
  • Sedatives or sleep aids

iconExpert Insight

“Melatonin is a natural supplement which can be bought over-the-counter to help with sleep. It assists with controlling the body's rest cycle and side effects are limited. Make sure you talk to your providers before moving ahead with starting melatonin or any other sleep aid.”
Licensed Mental Health Counselor (LMHC), MA, MSc Bisma Anwar

Who should not take melatonin?

Some people should not take melatonin due to other conditions or health conditions. For example:

  • Pregnant or breastfeeding women: Pregnant or breastfeeding women should talk to a doctor before taking melatonin because the safety of taking melatonin during pregnancy or while breastfeeding has not been strongly solidified with research.
  • Children: Some research suggests melatonin can help treat sleep disorders in children, but long-term effects on a child’s development are still unknown. Always consult with a pediatrician before you give melatonin to a child.
  • People with liver issues: Individuals with liver issues should exercise caution when considering melatonin, as the liver plays a crucial role in metabolizing medications, and melatonin may further strain the liver’s function. Consulting a healthcare professional is recommended before use.
  • Older adults: Older adults should consult their doctor before taking melatonin, as they may be more susceptible to potential side effects or drug interactions due to age-related changes in metabolism and other health conditions.
  • People with depression: Individuals with depression should seek medical advice before using melatonin, as it may interact with certain antidepressant medications or potentially worsen symptoms. A mental health professional or physician can give you personalized guidance.

Help Manage Symptoms of Anxiety With Talkspace

Taking melatonin for anxiety might help alleviate some of your symptoms, but it may not always be enough. Anxiety can be incredibly challenging and taxing, and Talkspace can provide a convenient, affordable, and accessible way to receive therapy for anxiety. With the help of our experienced and licensed therapists, you can learn effective coping strategies for managing anxiety symptoms.

Reach out to Talkspace today to learn how to deal with anxiety. You don’t have to live with the challenges anxiety presents.

See References

Bisma Anwar

Bisma Anwar is the Team Lead for the Talkspace Council of Mental Health Experts. A major focus in her work has been anxiety management and helping her clients develop healthy coping skills, reduce stress and prevent burnout. She serves on the board of a non-profit organization based in NYC called The Heal Collective which promotes advocacy and awareness of mental health issues in BIPOC communities.

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