Published: February 23, 2021
They call it the “hormone of darkness,” and while that sounds like something that pumps through a vampire’s body, it’s actually melatonin and it pumps through every one of us when the sun sets and evening is upon us. It makes us want to sleep. It helps us fall asleep. And it helps us stay asleep until the sun comes up again the next morning. Needless to say, melatonin is vital for good sleep.
Still, our modern lives mess with our melatonin levels in a multitude of ways. According to the Institute of Health Sciences, “the main causes of melatonin deficiency are a lack of sleep or anything that disrupts sleep e.g. shift work, late nights, jet lag, alcohol, caffeine, blood sugar imbalances, stress, exposure to light (particularly blue light), electromagnetic waves and age (some older adults produce no melatonin at all).”
Raise your hand if any of these factors apply to you. (Most of us can probably identify with about half of them.)
Luckily, melatonin is now widely available as an oral supplement or as a melatonin patch. But, do they really bridge the gap for our biological needs or are they just bedtime band-aids?
Here’s what the science says:
- In a meta-analysis study performed by Brzezinski, et al. in 2005 that included 17 studies, melatonin treatment was shown to significantly reduce the time it took to fall asleep, increase sleep quality, and increase sleep duration.
- In a more recent meta-analysis performed by Ferracioli-Oda, et al. in 2013, melatonin was again found to significantly reduce the amount of time it took to fall asleep and increase total sleep time, when compared to a placebo.
"A meta-analysis essentially tells 'yes' or 'no'--that a treatment does or does not have a significant effect," said Professor Richard Wurtman, principal investigator for the 2005 study. "When a meta-analysis says 'yes,' there should no longer be any controversy about whether the treatment works."
Both of these meta-analyses revealed a resounding “yes.”
So, what does the science say about oral supplements vs. a melatonin patch? Both are effective, but the melatonin patch may have some unique advantages. In 2009, Aeschbach et al. compared the two routes of delivery and found that a patch was more effective at maintaining melatonin levels in the body because it has a relatively short half-life once it’s released into your system. The melatonin patch takes longer to kick-in, but it helped subjects reach deeper sleep and helped them sleep longer.
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