The Benefits of Melatonin

We all want restful and restorative sleep, a resilient immune system and a strong metabolism. Luckily, there is a hormone that plays a role in all of these areas of health. It’s melatonin. 

Melatonin, often referred to as the sleep hormone, plays an important role in our day-to-day and lifelong health.

Our melatonin production and rhythm is easily impacted by modern life and may become depleted leading to disrupted sleep, oxidative stress, and other undesirable effects. 

When we understand the role of melatonin in health, we have many Functional Medicine tools that help to improve melatonin status. These include lifestyle and diet changes, along with supplementing with melatonin itself.

Melatonin supplementation may be used to promote sleep but also has other applications in medicine that are quite interesting and relevant to today’s world, without the side effects of pharmaceutical medications. 

This article addresses the following key points regarding melatonin:

  • Melatonin and its role in the body
  • Using melatonin supplements for sleep
  • Other applications for melatonin use include COVID-19, fertility, and metabolic health
  • The factors that inhibit melatonin production
  • Tips for increasing melatonin

What is melatonin?

Melatonin is a natural hormone produced in the pineal gland of the brain that promotes drowsiness and sleep. Melatonin is produced from the neurotransmitter serotonin, which is made from the amino acid tryptophan.

Much of the body’s serotonin (up to 90 percent) is produced in the gut, making the gut-brain access and microbiome health an important piece of this process. 

Melatonin is suppressed during the day, by the blue light from the sun, and naturally increases in the evening as the sun sets. Melatonin adjusts through the seasons, explaining why we may sleep more in winter months when the days are shorter.

Melatonin levels are also higher in the young and decline a bit with age, explaining why you may sleep a lot as a child and adolescent and less through your later years.

Because of these patterns, melatonin is considered a key regulator of the circadian rhythm

Melatonin Supplement For Sleep

Research supports the use of melatonin supplements for insomnia, jet lag and shift work to help promote sleep when the time is right. 

In a clinical trial of patients with insomnia, melatonin supplementation reduced sleep latency (the time it takes to fall asleep) while improving sleep quality and daytime alertness. Another study showed that those who took melatonin improved insomnia by 50 percent compared to only a 15 percent improvement in the control group. Several other studies of melatonin supplementation show similar results. 

Jet lag is caused by a disruption of the circadian rhythm, often from traveling by air through multiple time zones, especially when traveling east. Studies show that melatonin supplementation, timed to adjust sleep to the new time zone, decreases the perception of jet lag, and improves sleep latency and sleep quality.

Similarly, melatonin supplementation can be timed to adjust sleep schedules with shift work or used in people with circadian rhythm disorders. 

Side effects are minimal, although melatonin may cause drowsiness if taken in the daytime instead of before bed. A typical dosage is between 0.5 and 5 mg.

Melatonin may not be suitable for those with epilepsy or other disorders and those taking certain medications, so be sure to work with your doctor as needed. 

Health Benefits Of Melatonin

Besides the obvious benefit of using melatonin supplementation for sleep and to support the circadian rhythm, melatonin has other applications in medicine.

Let’s explore some of the ways that we can use this natural hormone to promote optimal health. 


Understanding the cyclical role of melatonin production in the body makes it no surprise that melatonin also plays a role in the female cycle. The seasonal changes of melatonin production help to explain why animals get pregnant in the spring or summer versus in the winter months. While humans don’t follow a cyclical pattern of pregnancy, melatonin is still important for fertility. 

Melatonin is a supplement to consider for fertility concerns because it improves egg quality and delays ovarian aging.

Why? Melatonin is considered an antioxidant and has other anti-aging actions such as maintaining telomeres. One role of antioxidants is to protect the mitochondria of the cell and a mature egg has more mitochondria than any other cell in the body. 

In a study of women with unexplained infertility who were undergoing fertility treatments, melatonin supplementation reduced oxidative stress and improved egg quality in all of the study participants. This translated to more pregnancies and births in the group. 


In addition to the benefits already discussed, melatonin is an anti-inflammatory compound that decreases inflammation by inhibiting the NLRP3 inflammasome. This inflammatory pathway is stimulated in COVID-19 and therefore, melatonin may help to cool down the inflammation associated with COVID-19. 

A 2020 article considers the use of melatonin supplementation as a possible contributing treatment in those who develop COVID-19. The authors state that it is effective in patients in the critical care setting by reducing blood vessel permeability, the need for sedation, decreasing anxiety and improving sleep. These benefits may help support better outcomes in patients. 

The Institute for Functional Medicine suggests clinicians treating COVID-19 patients consider 5-20 mg doses of melatonin and report minimal risk of harm from these higher dosages. 

Metabolic Health

A recent discovery links melatonin to insulin, a key hormone in blood sugar regulation. It’s interesting to note how all hormonal systems are linked!

It turns out that a SNP (single nucleotide polymorphism) in the melatonin receptor 1b gene is a risk factor for elevated fasting blood sugar and type 2 diabetes. 

As we naturally fast overnight with sleep, melatonin levels are high and when we are awake and eating, melatonin levels are low. The melatonin cycle through the day – and night – correlates with the rhythm of glucose metabolism. 

In human studies, we find evidence that melatonin supplementation stimulates insulin produced by the pancreas after meals. Additionally, low levels of melatonin in the body correlate with an increased risk of insulin resistance and diabetes.

When melatonin supplements are given to people with both type 2 diabetes and insomnia, the melatonin helps to improve sleep and hemoglobin A1C, a 3-month estimate of average glucose levels.

What Inhibits Melatonin?

Unfortunately, modern life is not conducive to robust melatonin production. Electricity, artificial lighting and technology has allowed us to be more awake and alert after dark and adapt our sleep-wake schedules away from the natural dark-light rhythms of a day. 

It’s increasingly common to use television, tablets and other devices after dark that emit blue light. In addition, we often sit in rooms with overhead broad spectrum light. 

While blue light exposure during the day (naturally from the sun) inhibits melatonin production to keep us awake, the same is true for artificial blue light at night as it blocks melatonin production and makes it harder to sleep. 

Natural Support For Melatonin Production, Sleep And Overall Health

There is a lot that we can do to support our melatonin rhythms, naturally, with small lifestyle changes.

Here are some of my  top tips:

1. Adjust indoor light. After dark switch from overhead full spectrum lighting to side lamps with amber lighting to mimic sunset.

2. Try blue light-blocking glasses when using screens after dark or for prolonged computer use during the day. Read more about this here

3. Support the microbiome to foster the gut-brain connection required for proper melatonin production. Read more about how to restore gut health and rebalance the microbiome here

4. Get nutrient-dense. Make sure your diet includes the nutrients needed for melatonin production including tryptophan, vitamin B6, and folate. 

  • Paleo food sources of tryptophan include: red meat, poultry, eggs, fish
  • Paleo food sources of vitamin B6 include: salmon, eggs, liver, grass-fed beef, spinach, sweet potato, bananas
  • Paleo food sources of folate include: avocados, liver and all of the dark leafy green vegetables including kale, collards, chard, spinach, arugula, bok choy 

Supplemental Methylation Support may be helpful as well. 

5. Try supportive supplements. Use glycine and magnesium in the evening to help augment relaxation and promote restful sleep. These supplements are safe and effective.

6. Take melatonin itself. Melatonin Extended Release supports restful sleep by providing melatonin and sustaining its release through the night. You’ll also get the antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and other total body benefits of melatonin.

The advantage of taking melatonin supplements, over pharmaceuticals, is that there is no dependency, impairment, or side effects experienced the next day.


Melatonin might seem like a simple molecule required for sleep, but it really has so many applications in clinical practice, and we are continuing to learn more all of the time.

In medicine, it’s easy to get very complicated very quickly, but the research on melatonin reminds us that going back to simple lifestyle tools and supplementation is often powerful, effective and provides a recalibration to the system for long-lasting results and wellness.