Can Taking Melatonin Cause Depression?

Our body perceives the continual changes between light and dark and responds accordingly. This includes the production of melatonin as the day comes to an end. This natural hormone helps regulate our circadian rhythm and is a key player in sleep, according to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health.

For people taking melatonin as a supplement, they may find that it helps reduce symptoms of jet lag, certain sleep disorders in children, and anxiety related to medical procedures. However, while generally deemed safe for short-term usage by most healthy adults, melatonin can come with side effects. Although more research is needed, there may be a risk of allergic reaction in association with melatonin use, as well as daytime drowsiness for older adults. Additionally, patients taking blood thinners or diagnosed with epilepsy will require medical supervision if taking the supplement.

Research has also shown that melatonin may induce mild side effects such as sleepiness, dizziness, headache, and nausea. Some people may wonder if taking melatonin could also cause mental health effects such as depression. But while melatonin has never been found to cause depression in people who don't already have it, the question of whether melatonin might exacerbate or improve depressive symptoms is complicated. Let's dig in.

Melatonin may increase symptoms in people with depression

For those who have never been diagnosed with depression, experts say there is no research to suggest that melatonin prompts the development of depression in those who use it (via Healthline). However, some individuals may experience short-term symptoms of depression, such as feeling less energized. This may be due to the energy-lowering effects of the supplement as it prompts the body into a state of relaxation.

Alternatively, there is greater evidence to suggest that melatonin can potentially worsen depression symptoms in those already diagnosed with the condition. In an older study published in The American Journal of Psychiatry, melatonin was found to heighten symptoms of dysphoria in six patients diagnosed with moderate to severe cases of depression and two patients diagnosed with Huntington's disease. These patients also experienced weight loss and got less sleep while taking melatonin.

Even so, other research surrounding melatonin and depression actually suggests that it may have mood-boosting benefits to offer, thereby potentially improving depression symptoms.

How melatonin may aid in depression symptoms

While further research is still needed on the subject, a 1998 study published in Psychiatry Research found that low-dose melatonin taken in the afternoon yielded lower depression scores in patients with winter depression than those who received a placebo capsule.

Some research suggests that the answer may lie in melatonin's ability to potentially improve sleep and subsequently boost mood. A 2016 study published in the Journal of Pharmaceutical Care looked at patients diagnosed with major depressive disorder (MDD) who had been treated with sertraline for eight weeks. Patients were given either melatonin or trazodone before bed. While both interventions resulted in improvements in sleep quality, those who received melatonin were able to fall asleep sooner than those who received trazodone after four weeks of medication use. Sufficient sleep is critical to emotional health. When we don't get enough sleep, we're more prone to negative emotional states over positive emotions.

If you or someone you know needs help with mental health, please contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741, call the National Alliance on Mental Illness helpline at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264), or visit the National Institute of Mental Health website.