5 benefits of melatonin beyond a good night’s sleep

Did you know that it might help migraines, lighten your PMS and keep diabetes at bay?

woman sleeping in bed

Photo, Masterfile.

This post was originally published in June 2013 and has been updated.

There’s a reason melatonin is on many doctor’s must-have anti-aging list and touted by celebrities for its powerful ability to encourage sleep and slow aging.

While melatonin is produced during sleep, its benefits are not reserved to the midnight hours. From reducing migraines to slimming waistlines and boosting thyroid, this little magic pill does more than just put the ‘beauty’ back in sleep.

1. A lack of melatonin may cause PMDD
If your monthly PMS symptoms have you pulling out your hair (or send your partner running for the hills) you may want to talk to your doctor about whether you have PMDD, and then look at your sleep habits. Premenstrual dysphoric disorder is a severe type of PMS which causes extreme mood shifts and physical symptoms. A study by Douglas Mental Health University Institute researchers has shown that low melatonin levels play a role in PMDD. This doesn’t just affect one week in the month however. Compared to their counterparts, PMDD sufferers had a further reduction in melatonin levels during their symptomatic luteal phase (the second half of their menstrual cycle when progesterone is at its highest).

Related: Q&A: Arianna Huffington on the science of sleep

2. Delay signs of aging (at least, in other animals)

If you didn’t worry about it in your first 30 years, you will in the next 30 — aging. More specifically, how to look and feel younger. The great news is melatonin has been shown to slow down the aging process. A research team in Paris found melatonin-based treatment can delay the first signs of aging in small mammals by at least three months (considering the animal can only live up to 30 months in captivity, this is quite substantial!). While it may not get you carded while buying your favourite bottle of red wine, it might keep people thinking there are substantially less candles on your birthday cake.

3. Lower diabetes risk
We all know that the morning after a poor night’s sleep can leave you veering from your diet and craving high-sugar foods. Well, low melatonin levels may be a risk factor for diabetes. Melatonin receptors have been found in many tissues of the body, including the pancreas which produces insulin. According to the Nurses’ Health Study, participants with the lowest melatonin levels faced two times the risk of developing diabetes, compared with those with the highest levels.

In a separate study, University of Granada researchers found that melatonin can even control weight gain in rats without reducing food intake showing that sleep may even help you lose weight if you’re aiming to.

Related: Are sleeping pills safe?

4. Manage your migraines
My bet is that if you suffer from migraines, you would likely try anything to put an end to the discomfort and get a good night’s sleep. Low levels of melatonin have been linked to a variety of headache types and have been shown to alleviate the pain. Results from a study published in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery & Psychiatry showed that 3 mg of melatonin significantly reduced headache frequency, compared with a placebo and had efficacy similar to that of 25 mg of amitriptyline, a common sleep aid and antidepressant. Researchers also found it was better tolerated than amitriptyline, with lower rates of side effects like daytime sleepiness and weight gain.

Supporting research published in Neurology found that patients taking 3 mg of melatonin nightly for a month experienced 2.5 fewer migraine attacks. Adding this to the arsenal of migraine prevention techniques such as magnesium supplementation or a gluten-free diet may be your ticket to living headache-free.

5. Wake up a sluggish thyroid
Women, especially over the age of 60, are at higher risk for hypothyroidism – a condition where your thyroid gland doesn’t produce enough hormones, causing obesity, joint pain, and heart disease.

Researchers from the Menopause Center in Italy found that among peri-menopausal and menopausal women ages 42-62, administering 3 mg of melatonin for six months at bedtime caused most of the women to report a general improvement of mood and a reduction in symptoms of depression, and highly significant improvement of thyroid function.

Natasha Turner, N.D. is a naturopathic doctor, Chatelaine magazine columnist, and author of the bestselling books The Hormone Diet and The Supercharged Hormone Diet. Her newest release, The Carb Sensitivity Program, is now available across Canada. She’s also the founder of the Toronto-based Clear Medicine Wellness Boutique and a regular guest on The Dr. Oz Show. For more wellness advice from Natasha Turner, click here

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