Melatonin supplements may help some people fall asleep faster, but can they help treat migraine disorder?

Migraine can be an extremely debilitating condition. While doctors often prescribe traditional medication to alleviate symptoms, some sources claim that melatonin, a natural supplement, can also help curb painful migraine episodes.

If you have migraine, you may be asking yourself questions about melatonin. Like how effective is melatonin for pain relief? And, can melatonin replace your typical migraine medications?

Experts agree that while melatonin may help you sleep, it’s not a replacement for your regular migraine medication.

Your brain produces melatonin when it’s exposed to darkness. The hormone plays a key role in circadian rhythms and your sleep-wake cycle.

Melatonin is usually used as a natural sleep aid. It has been successful for some patients as a natural sleeping aid, and some patients with chronic pain conditions use it to relax themselves so they can fall asleep,” says Medhat Mikhael, MD, board certified pain management specialist and anesthesiologist and medical director of MemorialCare Orange Coast Medical Center’s Spine Health Center in Fountain Valley, California.

Although your body naturally produces melatonin, some people with sleep or headache disorders may benefit from taking melatonin supplements.

First, it’s important to understand what happens in your brain during a migraine attack.

“Migraine is a neurological condition mostly caused by imbalances in the brain chemical that causes cascades of reactions that result in inflammation and vasodilatation of the trigeminal nerve,” Mikhael explains.

The trigeminal nerve is the cranial nerve linked to pain. Some studies, like one 2010 study, suggest people with chronic migraine have low levels of melatonin, which may be why health experts have looked into melatonin for migraine.

But research on melatonin for migraine shows mixed results.

Another 2010 study found that people in the placebo group reported as much relief as those taking melatonin.

“Melatonin has not been shown to improve pain during an attack and is also not used as a preventive medication for frequent [migraine episodes],” Thomas Berk, MD, medical director of Neura Health, explains.

According to health experts, melatonin isn’t a replacement for migraine preventive or abortive medication.

“Melatonin cannot replace the other preventive measures. Results of some studies have shown effectiveness, while others did not. Although melatonin has no major side effects, long-term use safety has not been established, and it can interact with a lot of other medications like Ambien or Fluvoxamine,” says Mikhael.

But if sleep issues trigger migraine episodes, your doctor may recommend a low dose of melatonin to help with sleep and reset your sleep-wake cycle.

“Melatonin really does not replace traditional medications or other more effective supplements for migraines,” says Berk.

“Your doctor may recommend 1 to 3 milligrams (mg) of melatonin at night to help you fall asleep, or they might recommend taking 0.5 to 1 mg 4 hours before you want to go to sleep, which replicates the normal spike in melatonin production that occurs then in your brain,” Berk says.

If you’re considering trying melatonin for your migraine episodes, it’s good to talk with your doctor, especially if you’re already taking medications for this or another condition.

Avoid triggers

Mikhael explains that some things may prompt migraine episodes, such as:

  • certain food and drink, including alcohol
  • stress
  • particular smells
  • lack of sleep

Finding out and paying attention to your triggers may help prevent future migraine attacks. A single prompt may not cause an episode, but exposure to multiple triggers has the potential to start a migraine attack.

Try hormonal treatments

Hormone imbalances may also play a role in causing migraine attacks. Hormone treatments may help in this case, explains Mikhael.

Consider preventive measures

“Using appropriate, preventive, and early interventions for acute episodes can be helpful,” says Mikhael.

“Patients that always develop [migraine attacks] with stress that leads to lack of or interrupted sleep can try melatonin to help aid in good sleep and prevent the development of migraine [headaches].”

Try healthy lifestyle changes

Managing migraine usually requires an individualized approach. What works for you may not be someone else’s treatment of choice. For example, you may find taking melatonin helps reduce the frequency of migraine episodes.

Some people may find other natural supplements helpful for migraine, but that doesn’t mean they’ll help your symptoms.

Lifestyle changes can make significant impacts on how often or how severe your [migraine episodes] are,” Berk explains.

“Being consistent with when you go to sleep and wake up, making sure you get a full 7 to 8 hours of sleep at night, and limiting your caffeine intake to the morning can all help maintain healthy sleep habits. Sleep can be a major trigger of [migraine attacks] for many people, and these are just some ways to help regulate,” he adds.

When it comes to migraine treatment and prevention, melatonin can be helpful if your triggers are sleep-related. But doctors don’t prescribe melatonin for pain relief or migraine prevention.

To manage migraine, you may find it helpful to avoid triggers and incorporate healthy lifestyle habits. Getting restful sleep is especially important since it’s a common trigger for many people.

You may also consider talking with a migraine specialist about your symptoms. They can help you pinpoint potential prompts and find a treatment plan that works for you.