Of the countless supplements you can find readily available these days, one of the most popular is melatonin. In fact, more Americans are taking this supplement—most notably touted for supporting sleep—than ever before. According to recent research by the National Institutes of Health, the number of people who reported taking melatonin increased by more than five times between 2000 and 2018.
Our body naturally secretes the hormone melatonin from a small gland in our brain called the pineal gland, explains sleep medicine specialist Peter Polos, M.D., Ph.D., a Sleep Number sleep expert. When it’s dark, either outside or in a given room that we are in, our body produces and releases melatonin into our bloodstream. Light, on the other hand, causes this production to stop.
Melatonin also plays a role in facilitating our circadian rhythm, which helps us create a healthy sleep cycle, by signaling to our body to lower its core temperature. This, in turn, promotes, sleepiness and fosters the sleep-wake cycle that allows our body to know when to sleep and when to wake up.
While it’s clear that melatonin plays a key role in sleep, that’s hardly its only role in the body. Here, experts share some of the impressive benefits of melatonin.
1. supports healthy blood sugar
Research suggests that melatonin plays a role in regulating metabolic health (think the balance of blood sugar and insulin) to support the body’s ability to maintain a healthy weight. One of the ways it does this? By influencing the release of insulin from pancreatic cells.
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As such, melatonin works to ward off type 2 diabetes, notes Polos. In fact, research published in the journal JAMA indicates that maintaining healthy nocturnal melatonin levels may cut type 2 diabetes risk in half. Another more recent study published in Hormone and Metabolic Research, meanwhile, found that supplemental melatonin may help support healthy blood sugar levels.
2. may fend off cognitive decline
A fun fact you may not know about melatonin: The hormone also happens to be a potent antioxidant. Because of this, it has neuroprotective features that may play a role in slowing cognitive decline, explains Polos. In fact, some studies, including one published in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences, have found that melatonin supplementation may help promote healthy brain function over time.
3. helps the body respond to stress
Also thanks to its antioxidant benefits, melatonin combats oxidative stress in the body, promoting healthy tissue function and supporting a healthy inflammatory response, says functional nurse practitioner Tracey O’Shea, M.S.N., F.N.P-C, of the California Center for Functional Medicine. That’s a big deal, considering that maintaining this state of balance is a must for warding off a plethora of chronic health issues that affect everything from your brain and lungs to your heart and joints.
4. supports fertility
Another perk to melatonin being an antioxidant is that it may be supportive of women’s fertility. In fact, one study published in the journal Antioxidants suggests that melatonin may promote pregnancy in women who are undergoing ovarian stimulation, a component of reproductive assistance. Because of its relationship with reproduction, fertility-focused naturopathic doctor Rachel Corradetti-Sargeant, N.D., always discusses melatonin with patients who are trying to conceive.