How Taking Melatonin Can Prevent Your Migraines

Still skeptical, but may be worth a shot under a doctor's care

Doctor talks with patient about a medication's side effects
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Melatonin is a hormone released by the pineal gland—a teeny gland located deep within your brain. While melatonin plays many roles, it is predominantly known for its role in regulating the sleep/wake cycle.

Research has found a link between low levels of melatonin and migraines. More specifically, people with chronic migraines have been found to have lower melatonin levels than those with episodic migraines.

In addition, studies have found a difference in melatonin levels in migraineurs based on their attacks—lower levels of melatonin on days of migraine attacks as compared to days without migraines.

Due to these findings, researchers have begun looking into whether melatonin supplementation may help prevent migraines.

Melatonin in Migraine Prevention

In one 2016 study in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery & Psychiatry, about 180 participants with a migraine were randomized to receive either 3mg melatonin, a placebo pill, or 25mg amitriptyline every evening before bedtime. Participants were followed for 12 weeks. Results found that melatonin was significantly better than placebo and comparable to amitriptyline in preventing migraine attacks. In addition, melatonin was better tolerated than amitriptyline, meaning fewer adverse effects (like sleepiness).

Another supportive study was a 2016 pilot study in Functional Neurology.  In this study, forty-one participants with either chronic tension-type headache or migraine took 4mg melatonin by mouth 30 minutes before bedtime every evening for six months.

Results found that there was a significant decrease in the number of headaches and migraines after six months of treatment, as compared to baseline (before starting the melatonin).

It's important to note though that this mentioned study in Functional Neurology is a pilot study. This means there was no control group, so the participants knew they were taking melatonin. In other words, the placebo effect could have played a role here.

Also, not all studies have shown a benefit in reducing migraines with melatonin supplementation. For example, in a 2010 study in Neurology, 46 participants with migraine were randomized to receive either a placebo pill or 2mg of extended-release melatonin before bedtime for 8 weeks.

Results showed that while melatonin and the placebo pill both led to a reduction in migraines, there was virtually no difference between the two. In other words, melatonin was not found to be any better than placebo.

Some experts may argue that this study had a number of limitations though, including the short time frame (only 8 weeks) and the higher than would be expected placebo effect in the study.

So, Does Melatonin Work in Preventing Migraines?

It's difficult to say for sure because studies have used different doses of melatonin (2mg versus 3mg versus 4mg), different formulations (immediate-release versus extended-release) and different time frames (2 months versus 3 months versus 6 months).

In addition, experts do not really know how melatonin is precisely linked to migraines.  Many speculate that melatonin supplementation improves sleep, and sleep deprivation or inadequate sleep is a common migraine trigger.

This all being said, while additional studies are needed to tease out the role of melatonin in migraine prevention, do not be surprised if your doctor gives you the OK to try melatonin at night.

The upside of melatonin is it is available over-the-counter, inexpensive, and generally well-tolerated. The downside is that because melatonin is a supplement, it is not regulated by the FDA. It may also cause daytime fatigue and dizziness and interact with some of your medications.

A Word From Verywell

While the scientific data supporting melatonin's role in migraine prevention is not as robust as experts would like, melatonin may be worth a shot. Of course, like any supplement, vitamin, or medication, it is important to only take melatonin under the guidance of your doctor.

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