Anxious Teens? Melatonin Balances the Circadian Clock

With screen time and blue light bombarding kids at all hours of the day, here’s how to get kids back on track with healthy sleep cycles.

In This Article

Melatonin Fights Rise of Occasional Teen Anxiety 

Do you think teenagers are becoming increasingly anxious? 

Teenagers between 13 and 18 have seen a sharp 20% rise in occasional anxiety between 2007 and 2012.12 The National Institutes of Health found one in three adolescents experience occasional anxiety.2 

Today, adolescents are digital natives. They have grown up with screens, leading many researchers to believe the rise in stress level is linked to excessive screen time. In America, adults check their cell phones an average of 52 times a day and spend a whopping nine hours in front of a blue light-emitting cell phone, tablet, or computer screen.3 For adolescents, these numbers are even higher! 

Social media has been shown to incentivize continued use through instant gratification. This is why kids stay on an app for hours at a time. There is little doubt the addiction many of us have to our phones and apps like Facebook, Instagram, or Snapchat is causing a rise in teenage anxiety. 

In a meta-analysis of 13 studies, there was evidence for associations of screen time with both mental and physical issues.

Dangers of Blue Light3,4

  • behavior problems
  • anxiety
  • hyperactivity
  • inattention
  • poorer self-esteem
  • poorer well-being
  • poorer psychosocial health
  • metabolic syndrome
  • poorer cardiorespiratory fitness
  • poorer cognitive development
  • lower educational attainments
  • poorer sleep outcomes
  • premature aging
  • retinal damage
  • brain damage

Some studies find suppression of blue light (no screens at night) results in normal blood sugar, weight, blood pressure, and cholesterol levels.9-11 

Screens are insidiously flooding the body with blue light, emitted from LED screens. Blue light is part of the visual light spectrum found in sunlight, absorbed by the circadian control center in the brain, called the superchiasmatic nuclei (SCN). The SCN regulates production of melatonin and the body’s biological clocks. Blue light literally blocks the SCN from stimulating the pineal gland and producing melatonin, which disrupts circadian rhythms.  

Blue Light, Melatonin, and Circadian Rhythms 

Screen time is particularly harmful at night, when the sun goes down and natural darkness stimulates melatonin production. Melatonin is a three-billion-year-old molecule that regulates circadian rhythms. It is not actually a sleep hormone: its main job is to balance the body’s biological clocks and keep them in circadian rhythm.  

Melatonin is our connection to the daily and seasonal cycles of nature. Think of melatonin as the night janitor who cleans, repairs, and rebuilds the body after a long day of wear and tear, while making metabolic changes from day to night and summer to winter. When excessive LED screen time blocks normal production of melatonin, this can result in a circadian imbalance. Nobel Prize-wining research proves the importance of being in balance with circadian rhythms.6 

Interestingly, mounting evidence indicates disruption of circadian regulation is associated with a wide variety of adverse health consequences.

We Recommend: Melatonin with Dr. Paula Witt-Enderby

Health Consequences of Disrupted Circadian Regulation5

Increased risk for:

  • premature death
  • metabolic syndrome
  • cardiovascular dysfunction
  • immune dysregulation
  • reproductive problems
  • mood disorders
  • learning deficits

These circadian imbalances are strikingly similar to those linked to screen time imbalances in adolescents. 

lifespa image, circadian rhythms, sunrise on a mossy pine forest

Studies find screen time imbalances are linked to circadian imbalances. Adolescents exposed to excessive screen time are prone to circadian imbalances, which may be the trigger mechanism for sleep and behavioral issues.7,8,9 

Melatonin Deficiency Linked to Occasional Anxiety 

By definition, a circadian imbalance related to excessive screen time will cause deficient melatonin production.12 Lack of melatonin has been shown in numerous studies to be linked to stress, worry, and occasional anxiety. 

In a review of 12 studies evaluating some 774 patients for preoperative (before a surgery) stress, worry, and situational anxiety, melatonin was found to be an effective agent for occasional anxiety. The study concluded melatonin may be as effective as standard treatments for occasional surgery-related anxiety. 13 

There is growing interest regarding melatonin as a treatment approach for occasional anxiety. Recently, animal studies have focused on the effect of melatonin on chronic stress and occasional anxiety and found melatonin displays long-term mood support, while addressing behavioral issues linked to worry and stress. Melatonin is associated with improved working memory and reduced responses to stress.14 

We Recommend
Which is Best for YOU? Time Release Melatonin vs. Immediate Release Melatonin

Protocol: One-Month Circadian + Occasional Anxiety Reset for Teens 

  • Give your adolescent one Melatonin HP 20-40 minutes before bed. A reduction in occasional anxiety should be seen during this month. (Melatonin HP [5mg] is a biphasic time-release formula, where 1mg is released upon digestion, and the remainder over a six-hour period. Many other time-release melatonin products release over eight hours and kids wake up too groggy to go to school.)  
  • After one month, switch to LifeSpa’s low-dose melatonin (1 drop =.1 mg). Start with 30 drops before bed. When that dose causes any morning grogginess or interrupted sleep, reduce dose by five drops.  

Contrary to popular belief, melatonin does not suppress your natural production—it encourages it. So, over time, as the body makes more of its own, the need for supplemental melatonin will go down. Most people, when melatonin stops working, take more, when they should in fact be weaning off. 

In two to three months, circadian rhythms should be sufficiently balanced, as long as screen time is minimized or the night (orange) filter is activated 24/7. 

References

  1. https://www.healthychildren.org/English/health-issues/conditions/emotional-problems/Pages/Anxiety-Disorders.aspx 
  2. https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/any-anxiety-disorder.shtml#part_155096 
  3. https://lifespa.com/blue-light-longevity/ 
  4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6326346/ 
  5. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/B9780123969712000105 
  6. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29367188 
  7. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4227308/ 
  8. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5142605/ 
  9. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4851593/ 
  10. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5424773/ 
  11. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/31504080 
  12. https://lifespa.com/?s=melatonin 
  13. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6464333/ 

2 thoughts on “Anxious Teens? Melatonin Balances the Circadian Clock”

  1. Dr. John,
    Can you please speak to the mechanism behind exogenous melatonin increasing one’s endogenous production? As a functional practitioner, I’d like to understand how that works so I can feel comfortable and confident recommending melatonin supplementation. Thank you kindly, I love your videos!
    In health,
    Mallory

    Reply

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