Medically reviewed by Kristin Hall, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 11/3/2022
If you're dealing with anxiety, you’re not alone. There are approximately 40 millionadults in the United States with an anxiety disorder, such as generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder and more.
But living with anxiety is no way to live. It can impact your cognitive abilities, your heart rate, your social interactions and other mental and physical functions. Because of this, people have spent a lot of time trying to find methods that work to treat anxiety symptoms. A quick online search makes this very clear — you’ll find tons of recommendations of things you can do or take to ease the adverse effects of anxiety.
One thing you may come across: Taking a daily dose of melatonin supplementation for anxiety. But does it really work? That’s what we’re going to dive into.
To understand if melatonin can work for anxiety, you first need to understand what it even is. Your body naturally produces melatonin, which is a hormone created in the pineal gland in your brain. It helps establish your circadian rhythms.
As the sun sets, your body produces more melatonin to encourage sleep. As the sun rises again, production of this hormone decreases, which helps you wake up.
One problem: As you age, your natural melatonin levels naturally drop.
In recent years, melatonin has become a very popular supplement to help people deal with sleep disturbances. Some people take it just to ensure a good night of rest, while others take it for jet lag or sleep issues caused by blood pressure medication.
But what about anxiety? The truth is, there’s not a ton of research on the benefits of melatonin for anxiety, and no strong evidence that it works.
There was a study done in 2017 on animals that showed some promising connections between decreased anxiety levels and taking melatonin. The study showed that melatonin increased the levels of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) in areas of the brain. It’s thought that higher levels of GABA can help decrease anxiety — this is partially how benzodiazepines (a medication used to treat anxiety) work. But again, it’s important to remember this study was conducted using rats.
When it comes to humans, most of the research that has been done centers around people taking melatonin to ease anxiety before a surgical procedure. For example, a 2015 analysis of clinical studies looked at surgical patients attempting to reduce anxiety before a procedure. Some surgical patients took melatonin, some took a placebo sugar pill and others took midazolam (a medication that causes drowsiness).
The majority of these studies found that the effects of melatonin were better than a placebo for reducing anxiety before surgery, and there wasn't much difference between melatonin and midazolam effects.
While these studies were done on people with anxiety before a procedure or on animals, they do seem to suggest melatonin could help with anxiety.
Though there seems to be some promising information out there about the effects of melatonin on anxiety symptoms, it’s not an official treatment. Because of this, there’s no recommended doses of melatonin for anxiety.
If you’re taking a melatonin supplement for its sleep-inducing effects, you can just follow the recommended dosage on the label.
But there isn’t melatonin on the market specifically for anxiety. If you want an idea of how much may be helpful for anxiety, you can look towards the studies mentioned above.
When used for anxiety before surgery, the doses of melatonin administered ranged from 3 to 14mg.
In terms of when it was taken, it was taken about 100 minutes before surgery. This would imply that it works fairly quickly.
So, if you followed that logic, you’d take a dose of melatonin when feeling anxious and it could work (if it’s going to) about 100 minutes after administration.
All of this said, you should not just start taking a new medication or supplement without consulting with a healthcare provider first — especially because future studies are needed to determine how effective this supplement is for anxiety. If you’re interested in taking melatonin for symptoms of anxiety, you should make an appointment to speak with someone first.
There are some adverse effects you should know about before you consider taking melatonin for symptoms of anxiety.
First, it can make you sleepy and dizzy. So if you take it, you should avoid driving or using machinery afterward. Other potential adverse effects include nausea and headaches.
While melatonin is generally thought to be safe for short-term use, there are some people who may want to avoid it. This includes people who:
Are pregnant or breastfeeding: There’s just not enough research to conclude it’s totally safe. Since there is an unclear risk, it’s best to avoid.
Have bleeding or seizure disorders: Melatonin may exacerbate these things.
Have depression: It may make your symptoms worse.
Additionally, if you are trying to get pregnant, you may want to skip taking this supplement. It can have an effect similar to birth control.
You also need to be careful when mixing medications. Melatonin can cause potentially dangerous drug interactions with caffeine, fluvoxamine, medications that are altered by the liver, diabetes medication, high blood pressure medication and blood thinners, medications that prevent seizures and more.
Again, before you introduce any new medication or supplement to your routine, you should speak with a healthcare professional.
Since there’s not enough research about the efficacy of melatonin for anxiety, you may want to look for more standard treatment options.
After all, anxiety can have a huge impact on your daily life and it can make you feel like your cognitive functions are impaired.
Thankfully, there are some research-backed ways to deal.
Therapy can be a great way of dealing with feelings of anxiety. You’ll likely be guided towards cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).
In CBT, you work with a mental health professional to identify behaviors that amp up your anxiety and then work to change them.
Anti-anxiety medication can be used alone or along with therapy.
You’ll need to consult with a healthcare provider to get a prescription for this type of medication. The medications prescribed for anxiety are selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), beta blockers and benzodiazepines.
Looking for more of a lifestyle tweak? A 2014 study found that 20 minutes of mindful meditation can lower anxiety. It’s thought that this is because meditation lowers brain activity for a bit.
Mindful meditation is all about attention and acceptance. The goal is to pay attention to what’s happening as you meditate and to stay in the moment. Then, if other thoughts pop in, you should accept them and move on.
There are a variety of apps out there that offer guided meditations, so it can be really easy to incorporate it into your routine.
Melatonin is a hormone your body produces. It’s responsible for assisting with your circadian rhythms — which help you get good rest. As you get older, natural melatonin production and melatonin levels drop off.
When those levels of melatonin drop, or even before that happens, some people turn to a supplement to help with sleep disturbances and rest. In addition to this, some people say melatonin supplements can help with anxiety.
Unfortunately, there’s not a ton of research to support this.
There was a study done on animals that seems to suggest melatonin could help lower your anxiety score. There are also systematic reviews that look at studies done on how melatonin may help surgical patients with anxiety. Whatever the type of surgery, the studies did find that melatonin may help with preoperative nerves. But those are about it in terms of evidence.
If you decided to go this route for anxiety treatment despite the lack of strong evidence for the efficacy of melatonin for anxiety, you should know there are side effects of melatonin. They include dizziness, nausea, sleepiness and headaches.
If you’d like standard treatment options that are known to be effective for anxiety disorders such as generalized anxiety disorder, you may want to consider therapy or medication.
To discuss melatonin supplementation for anxiety or other options, you can schedule an online consultation with a mental healthcare professional.