Melatonin: So Much More Than Sleep


I'm sure you already know that melatonin is a mild sedative that aids in sleep. It is commonly used to combat jet lag or balance the circadian rhythm of those that work a graveyard shift. However, you may not know that melatonin has far wider reaching effects (1).

Melatonin has a long history of use and is recognized as a safe alternative for sleep. But with all of the other effects perhaps we should consider regular supplementation as part of a health-promoting lifestyle.

First, melatonin acts as a potent antioxidant--supporting the cell's powerhouse: the mitochondria. It aids in the creation of energy in the form of ATP by supporting the inner matrix of the mitchondrial membrane. This factor alone makes melatonin a vital player in CFS and fibro, which are both characterized by mitochondrial and free radical damage.

Another caveat of the mitochondrial damage seen in CFS is that those dysfunctional cellular powerhouses need to be shut down to make way for newer, healthier versions. The body has a built-in cellular "house cleaning" mode known as apoptosis. This is commonly referred to as programmed cell death. We want the dilapidated machinery plowed down to build new and improved versions. There are several factors that effect apoptosis but melatonin helps in the process by stimulating apoptotic genes.

We also know that melatonin supports the immune system by turning on genes that regulate immune surveillance as well as boosting Natural Killer (NK) cells--those all important immune cells that are dangerously depleted in CFS. As a consequence, melatonin has been shown to have a potent anti-cancer effect especially in breast, prostate, and colorectal cancers.

Melatonin effects insulin signaling in the body, acting to regulate energy metabolism. Irregularity in melatonin production,  due to night shift work or exposure to lights at night, can lead to poor glucose control and weight gain (2). 

For reasons still unknown, nocturia is common to CFS patients of all ages. Nocturia is defined as waking up during the night to urinate. A recent randomized, controlled trial of melatonin supplementation showed that it improved nocturia in the elderly (3).


Melatonin Summary

  • Direct antioxidant
  • Induces apoptosis (programmed cell death)
  • Supports DNA repair
  • Increases Natural Killer (NK) cells
  • Boosts the immune system
  • Anti-cancer effects
  • Relieves symptoms of nocturia


1. Srinivasan V, Spence DW, Pandi-Perumal SR, Trakht I, Cardinali DP. Therapeutic actions of melatonin in cancer: possible mechanisms. Integr Cancer Ther. 2008 Sep;7(3):189-203

2. Cipolla-Neto J, Amaral FG, Afeche SC, Tan DX, & Reiter RJ. Melatonin, Energy Metabolism and Obesity: a Review. J Pineal Res. 2014 Mar 21.

3.  Charnow, JA. Nocturia Linked to Low Melatonin. 14 Jan 09