Q: I’m seeing chatter around a study re: melatonin and COVID-19 prevention and recovery. Should we be taking melatonin every night? What’s an appropriate amount to avoid disrupting our sleep hormones TOO much and having a dose that might actually help?”
A: TL;DR: Sufficient restorative sleep is essential for a healthy immune system.
Melatonin, which aids in sleep onset, *may* help in the prevention and severity of COVID-19. There’s currently not strong enough evidence to take melatonin on a regular basis to prevent COVID-19. Instead, continue to follow social distancing guidelines and focus on your sleep health behaviors.
Melatonin is an important hormone that regulates your body’s natural rhythms. While it is best known for facilitating sleep onset, it also helps calibrate the immune system, which *may* help in both the prevention and severity of COVID-19. This is promising because melatonin is inexpensive, widely available, and relatively safe.
Unfortunately, right now there is not enough scientific evidence to support taking melatonin every night as a preventive measure. Preliminary studies do indicate that people who take melatonin are less likely to get COVID-19 and, among those who have it, have better survival outcomes. However, importantly, these studies are based on observational data and do not demonstrate whether these associations are causal. Clinical trials are ongoing to figure this out (see link below for current studies).
While there are relatively few short-term side effects of supplemental melatonin, the longer-term effects have not been well studied. In addition, since the Food and Drug Administration does not regulate supplements, there is limited guidance on optimal dosage, and safety, in addition to wide variability in actual concentration of melatonin in products.
The association between taking supplemental over-the-counter melatonin and COVID-19 prevention may be due to the beneficial effects of sufficient restorative sleep on a healthy immune system (see prior Dear Pandemic post below). Most sleep experts recommend behavioral interventions over taking a pill to improve sleep health.
As noted in the graphic from the National Sleep Foundation, some of these behavioral tips include:
• Set a relaxing bedtime routine
• Go to sleep and wake up at the same time every day, including on the weekends
• Exercise regularly
• Create a sleep-friendly bedroom
• Try to get the recommended nightly sleep duration (7-9 hours for adults)
As always, Dear Pandemic does not offer individual medical advice. Before taking any medications, over-the-counter drugs, supplements, or herbs, please consult a physician for a thorough evaluation. If you have COVID-19, please talk to your doctor for the most current information about the best treatments for you.