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What Is the Connection between Melatonin and Depression?

By Madeleine A.
Updated Feb 18, 2024
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The connection between melatonin and depression refers to the ability of the hormone melatonin to reduce the symptoms of depression. In some cases, however, the use of melatonin can actually worsen symptoms of depression. Since melatonin is not regulated by the government, safety has not been thoroughly examined. Taking melatonin supplements should never be considered unless under the direct supervision of an experience health care provider.

The pineal gland in the brain secretes the hormone melatonin. In addition, melatonin can help regulate other natural hormones and normalize the circadian rhythm of the body. Darkness helps the pineal gland produce melatonin and exposure to bright lights during the night can disrupt melatonin cycles. This is another way that melatonin and depression may be connected.

Melatonin and depression may be linked because melatonin supplements can improve sleep quality, therefore reducing the symptoms of daytime sleepiness and depression. In addition, melatonin and depression may be linked through a condition called seasonal affective disorder. This condition occurs during the winter months when the days get shorter. The reduction in natural daylight can trigger depression. Supplementing with melatonin can have an anti-depressant effect on the body, improving mood.

Side effects of melatonin supplementation include daytime sleepiness, abdominal pain, and headaches. In addition, sleep walking and vivid dreams or nightmares may occur from taking melatonin. Also, melatonin supplements derived from animals can harbor contaminants and viruses, so supplements made from artificial ingredients may be safer.

Many people take melatonin supplements to treat or prevent jet lag. Since it regulates the sleep-wake cycle, it can help normalize sleep patterns. Although the establishment between melatonin and depression has not been proven, taking supplements may have a profound placebo effect. Since so many people believe that melatonin is effective in improving sleep and relieving symptoms of depression, taking it can cause people to think that it will really help them, even though scientific data may say otherwise.

Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding should refrain from taking melatonin supplements. In addition, people with heart disease, high blood pressure, kidney or liver disorders, or those prone to migraine headaches should not take melatonin unless authorized by a medical professional. Melatonin may also interact with certain prescription medications or dietary supplements. Before taking melatonin, it should be discussed with a healthcare provider who can determine if the risks outweigh the benefits.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Discussion Comments
By Sporkasia — On Jan 31, 2014

Animandel - The trick with a placebo is that if you think it is working then it is. Didn't you feel better when you took the melatonin pills? The actual reason you felt better is beside the point.

And while there may be no guarantee that melatonin can ease depression, experience and observation tells me there is a relationship between light/dark and mood changes. Many people have seasonal mood changes.

By Animandel — On Jan 30, 2014

Drentel - I learned something from this article, too. I thought it was a scientific fact that there was a direct relationship between melatonin and depression: If you don't get enough sunlight and melatonin then you feel blue. Now I know it doesn't work so simply.

Also, I have taken melatonin supplements and I have recommended them to friends. Now, I wonder whether the tablets were actually working or did I just think they were helping me.

By Sporkasia — On Jan 30, 2014

Drentel - Even if 24 hours of sunlight didn't make me depressed it would sure make me crabby. Daylight sleeping alone does not equal a good mood for me. And, yes, understanding the way melatonin works an be a little tricky until you get your head wrapped around the concept.

By Drentel — On Jan 29, 2014

After reading this article I have a new understanding of melatonin. I always thought you got the hormone from the sun, and that during winter and overcast days you got less sunlight so you were more likely to get depressed.

I didn't know the pineal gland needed darkness to produce the melatonin hormone. So I guess 24 hours of sunlight wouldn't be good for treating depression.

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