The crushing pain, nausea, and light sensitivity of a migraine headache can wreak havoc on the lives of migraine sufferers. For many, the only treatment options are heavy-duty pharmaceuticals with many unpleasant side effects. And those don’t even work for everyone. But research is pointing to surprising melatonin benefits that may offer new hope to migraineurs.
Melatonin, most commonly known as the sleep hormone, helps to control our circadian rhythm, the 24-hour cycle that tells our bodies when it is time to sleep. Although it’s primary function is biological timekeeping, researchers have found that it can also modulate and decrease pain, possibly playing an important a role in migraine prevention.
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Melatonin benefits for pain
Produced by the pineal gland, melatonin is at its lowest level during the light of day and steadily increases to a maximum level late at night. Researchers noted that many people have less pain at night—just when melatonin is peaking. They looked deeper and learned that melatonin acts on the receptors for many pain-relieving molecules in the brain (eg, opioid receptors), leading to a decrease in pain sensations when melatonin levels are high. Melatonin supplements have been shown to lower pain intensity in conditions such as fibromyalgia, irritable bowel syndrome, and migraine headaches.
Decreased melatonin levels in migraine patients
Strengthening the link between melatonin and migraine, multiple studies have found that patients with migraine have significantly lower melatonin levels at night than healthy controls.[3,4] Perhaps even more interesting is that melatonin levels in migraine patients do not increase during the menstrual cycle the way that they normally do, implicating melatonin as a factor in menstrual migraine, a very common occurrence for women.[3,5]
Melatonin may prevent and treat migraine
Based on these findings, melatonin is being pursued as a possible therapeutic tool to prevent migraines. A clinical trial found that 3 mg of melatonin 30 minutes before bedtime helped to reduce the overall frequency, intensity, and duration of headaches for the subjects in the study. 25 out of the 32 participants saw a decrease in headache frequency of 50%, and 8 participants saw a complete remission of headaches. This study also found menstrual migraines to be improved as well for the female subjects.
Researchers also looked at the use of agomelatin, a melatonin receptor agonist (something that acts like melatonin in the brain), to treat migraines. They found that the intensity and duration of migraine attacks decreased with use of agomelatin, and overall depression and sleep disruptions improved as well. Although agomelatonin itself is not naturally occurring, these results add to the growing body of evidence of the promising melatonin benefits for migraine sufferers.
Try melatonin for yourself
To try using melatonin as a preventative migraine treatment at home, take it 30 to 60 minutes before sleep on a daily basis. The most promising studies show a dosage of 3 mg to be effective in reduce migraine symptoms. Along with helping you to fall and stay asleep, a melatonin supplement might just help relieve some of your pain and let you live more migraine-free days. Give it a try and tell us what you think.
Share your experience with melatonin and migraines
Do you suffer from migraine headaches or other painful conditions? Have you tried melatonin or other natural remedies? Have you experienced other melatonin benefits? What migraine remedies have you found to be the most effective?
Originally published in 2014, this blog has been updated.