By Neal Fox, PharmD Student
One problem with treating headaches is that we don’t know exactly how they happen. Therefore, it is hard to know how to keep them from happening or even stop them once they start. When people have to deal with a headache on their own, they go to the pharmacy and buy something. They can take acetaminophen, ibuprofen, naproxen, or aspirin, which can potentially cause side effects if used too much. These drugs can also upset the stomach. For worse headaches prescription drugs are used, many of which have bad side effects and can be expensive. Melatonin can prevent and treat different types of headaches with few side effects and low cost.1,2 People who often get migraine headaches tend to not have enough melatonin inside of them.3 To fix this, melatonin can be taken as a pill.
A paper from India in September 2014, titled “Melatonin: functions and ligands”, detailed much about melatonin and all of the possible medical uses for it. Melatonin is created by the pineal gland, a part of the brain. Melatonin is related to sleep and it has been used to help people sleep better. There are many other things that melatonin can help with such as swelling, pain, and free radicals. This means that it could be involved in treating more diseases in the future.2 Right now, there is good evidence to support the use of melatonin for headaches. Using melatonin is very different from what Americas normally do. We use medications with unpleasant side effects that often work only in 50% of people who take them.4 Due to the research on melatonin being performed overseas, its benefits may not be well-known in America.
Around the world, scientists are looking at melatonin and headaches, and there are many studies supporting the use of melatonin in migraines as well.3 In a recent article from Turkey by researchers Karadas and Odabasi, 23 people were given 3 mg of melatonin before bed. This study found that, when taking melatonin, people had migraines less often. Plus, the migraines that they did have, hurt less. Because of this, the people taking melatonin needed to use other drugs less.5 Miano et al. found that melatonin 3 mg at bedtime was effective in reducing headache attacks in 22 children ages 6-16. However, 7 of the children reported no improvement.6 Melatonin has been used in other kinds of headaches, such as cluster headache. Cluster headache is a type of headache with really bad pain on one side of the head for a short time. This type also tends to mess up the body’s internal clock in different ways. Leone et al found that 10 mg of melatonin worked very well for half of people but another study by Pringsheim et al used only 2 mg and did not see any benefit.1,7 Finally, another type of headache called hemicrania continua (HC) is normally treated with a drug called Indomethacin, which has side effects including headache. HC is a type of headache that lasts for a long time and is usually on one-side of the head but not very bad. However, at times this headache can become much worse and the severe pain can last for hours or days. Melatonin has been used to help people with HC and has been very successful.8,9 Finally, a Dutch group treating sleep patients found that 78.6% of them had a decrease in headaches with melatonin. However, 13.8% of patients who didn’t have headaches before, got them while on melatonin.10
We don’t know exactly how melatonin works for headache. A possibility suggested by some experts is all about the internal sleep clock that we have and melatonin’s effect on that. The research that has been done so far shows good things about melatonin. We know that it is highly safe and inexpensive. The only reported side effects of melatonin are that it can make people really sleepy and might cause headaches in some people with sleep disorders.10 If you think melatonin may be beneficial to you, talk with your doctor and make an informed decision together. Melatonin may not work for everyone, because of the complexity of headaches and the different kinds. But if it could work, is it worth it to try?
Since I was thirteen, I used to get terrible headaches 3-5 times a week. I started taking melatonin (3 mg before bed) in April of 2013 and have only had about 10 major headaches since then (currently October 2014). The main issue I have had with taking melatonin regularly is that it can be more difficult to get out of bed due to drowsiness; but this usually subsides within 30 minutes of actually getting up. I would definitely recommend trying melatonin for prevention of frequent headaches.
Have you tried everything for your headache? Are you willing to try melatonin?
- Pringsheim T, Magnoux E, Dobson CF, Hamel E, Aubé M. Melatonin as adjunctive therapy in the prophylaxis of cluster headache: A pilot study. Headache. 2002;42(8):787-792.
- Singh M, Jadhav HR. Melatonin: Functions and ligands. Drug Discov Today. 2014;19(9):1410-1418.
- Vogler B, Rapoport AM, Tepper SJ, Sheftell F, Bigal ME. Role of melatonin in the pathophysiology of migraine: Implications for treatment. CNS Drugs. 2006;20(5):343.
- Peres M, Masruha M, Rapoport A. Melatonin therapy for headache disorders. Drug Development Research (USA). 2007;68:329-334.
- KARADAS Ö, ODABASI Z. Migrende melatonin proflaksisinin etkinligine yönelik açik uçlu klinik çalisma: Ön rapor. Archives of Neuropsychiatry / Noropsikiatri Arsivi. 2012;49(1):44-47.
- Miano S, Parisi P, Pelliccia A, Luchetti A, Paolino MC, Villa MP. Melatonin to prevent migraine or tension-type headache in children. Neurol Sci. 2008;29(4):285-287.
- Leone M, D’Amico D, Moschiano F, Fraschini F, Bussone G. Melatonin versus placebo in the prophylaxis of cluster headache: A double-blind pilot study with parallel groups. Cephalalgia. 1996;16(7):494-496.
- Hollingworth M, Young T, M. Melatonin responsive hemicrania continua in which indomethacin was associated with contralateral headache. Headache. 2014;54(5):916-919.
- Rozen TD. Melatonin responsive hemicrania continua. Headache. 2006;46(7):1203-1204.
- Rovers J, Smits M, Duffy JF. Headache and sleep: Also assess circadian rhythm sleep disorders. Headache. 2014;54(1):175-177.