It seems logical enough — melatonin can supposedly help you fall asleep, so maybe it can put your anxiety to bed, too. Especially when you’re feeling so anxious that you’d try just about anything at your disposal to find even a hint of chill. Unfortunately, it’s not gonna work.
“I can totally see the temptation to draw that connection,” says Kate Hanselman, psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner at Thriveworks in Connecticut. “But as far as I’ve seen in the literature and also in my own clinical practice, melatonin shouldn’t be used for anxiety reduction.”
She explains that this is largely because melatonin supplements don’t put you to sleep in and of themselves. “Melatonin isn’t like some other medications that support sleep, that make you very sedated, very groggy,” says Hanselman. “Melatonin is more of a suggestion. If you don’t listen to it, it’s not going to force you to sleep.” Thus, if you take melatonin but then stay seated in your living room with the lights on watching TV, it’s not going to do its job. Instead, melatonin, which is naturally secreted in the brain at night, only really works when you’re already meeting the other conditions for sleep — laying in bed in the dark, etc.
If anything, given that our brains release melatonin after dark, you might actually risk disrupting your natural circadian rhythm by taking melatonin at times you’re not planning on going to bed — in turn, making it harder to sleep at more traditional times. And if improving your mental health is what you’re after, losing sleep certainly isn’t going to help. “One of the biggest things I see with people I work with is, if I can get you sleeping, I can guarantee that you’ll feel at least a little bit better,” Hanselman tells me.
By that measure, melatonin could help with anxiety in that it helps you sleep better overall. Being well-rested isn’t a foolproof way of treating anxiety, but it’s one part of the greater mental-health puzzle. If you do wish to try melatonin to help with sleep, Hanselman recommends checking with your doctor beforehand and choosing a reputable brand and remaining consistent with it.
“My recommendation is always to talk to a professional. If anxiety is an ongoing issue, we have a number of different medications that can help,” she concludes. “If you’re considering taking a supplement because you’re feeling anxious, you should come see a professional. We can help you navigate that terrain a lot better than you googling it and doing it on your own.”
Which will also probably help you sleep a lot better at night.