Melatonin, the miracle sleeping pill?

In recent years, the popularity of melatonin has skyrocketed, along with the increase in taking medications like Ritalin - for ADHD - that can increase sleep problems.

Also known as the sleep hormone, melatonin is traditionally used to treat jet lag, migraines and sleep problems for the elderly.

Today, melatonin is increasingly recommended for treating sleep disorders related to methylphenidate use or preventing sleep deficiency in adolescents and individuals living with autism spectrum disorder.

"Natural product" does not mean without contraindication

Although melatonin is sold over the counter and is considered a "natural product" in Canada, it is contraindicated in many situations. People who have cancer, epilepsy, diabetes, depression or asthma should not use it. Just like pregnant or breastfeeding women - according to the opinion of various experts - and people under 21 years old. It is therefore advisable to consult a health professional to find out if the melatonin supplement is right for you. They can also refer you to other strategies that promote circadian regulation.

Occurs naturally in the brain

In people who do not have a sleep disorder, at dusk, the body naturally goes to sleep thanks to the melatonin present in the brain. It tells the brain that it is time to sleep!

Useful but not miraculous

When the circadian clock derails and even counting sheep becomes painful, oral intake of melatonin is a possible solution. As evidenced by an interesting study in 2014, the miraculous benefits of taking melatonin supplementation would be less noticeable than the rumour suggests. In some subjects, melatonin appears to have a positive effect on the cycle and quality of sleep, while in others it has little or no effect. But in all cases, it is shown that sleep problems are resolved when treatment is supported by the establishment of appropriate conditions.

Among these, we find:

  • Exposing yourself to the light as soon as you wake up
  • Avoid screens in the evening
  • Go to bed every day at the same time
  • Set up a sleeping routine
  • Practice a relaxing activity before going to bed
  • Change the molecule of the medication (for ADHD children, for example)
  • Exercise during the day
  • Avoid so-called exciting foods (coffee, chocolate, sugar, etc.)

The Sandman may sell us dreams, but we will never buy sleep in bulk. The miracle pill does not exist and melatonin is not a panacea. Although it may promote better sleep, without complete care and 360-degree treatment, it will not cure all ailments.


FamiliprixCentre intégré universitaire de santé et de services sociaux de l’Ouest-de-l’Île-de-Montréal; Centre du sommeil The effectiveness of melatonin for promoting healthy sleep : a rapid evidence assessment of the literature

Image de Annie Harvey

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