You may turn to melatonin as a sleep aid, but science shows that its benefits are much broader, including support for cognitive health.
Melatonin and Age-Related Brain Health
In my practice, I rarely recommend melatonin for sleep alone. Instead, I primarily use it to reset out-of-synch biological clocks and get clients back in line with nature’s circadian rhythms (which benefits sleep patterns, but also so much more).
I also use melatonin to help slow many age-related health concerns, including cognitive decline.
In this article, I’ll focus on the how to use melatonin for brain health and memory.
Melatonin and Memory
Do you frequently forget where you put your keys, phone, or wallet? Or do you forget names, or what you went into a room to look for?
This may be a normal result of aging. Age-related memory decline affects 40 percent of people 65 and older.
And it may be the result of declining melatonin levels as we age.
After decades of animal studies linking better memory to melatonin supplementation, a 2008 human study published in the journal Psychopharmacology replicated these findings.
In this placebo-controlled study, 50 healthy adults were either given 3 mg of melatonin or no melatonin. One hour later they were exposed to a psychosocial stressor. During that stress, they were asked to observe a variety of objects. The next day they were asked to recall these objects. The melatonin-supplemented group had enhanced memory of the objects compared to the control group.
In another placebo-controlled study with 80 patients who had mild cognitive decline, half were supplemented with 2 mg of melatonin and half took no melatonin. After 24 weeks of supplementation, the melatonin group scored significantly higher on a battery of cognitive function tests compared to the placebo group.
Normal brain aging is linked to cellular senescence, in which aging cells linger in the body, causing accelerated free-radical, or oxidative, damage.
In a 2021 meta-analysis published in the journal Aging, researchers evaluated 10 large studies and the decline of melatonin production with age.
The Researchers concluded that the antioxidant properties of melatonin were able to support the body’s natural ability to reduce age-related DNA damage of the brain.
The study reported that the brain is the most vulnerable organ to free radical damage as it ages. This is primarily due to the fact that the brain is high in oxygen, as well as polyunsaturated fats, which are vulnerable to oxidation (from those high levels of oxygen in the brain). The result can be memory decline. (FYI, this is also a reason highly processed cooking oils should be eliminated from your diet.)
In this study, melatonin also supported the body’s natural protection against protein carbonylation, which spurs on an irreversible process linked to oxidation, protein damage, and brain aging.
One of the ways melatonin helps fight against age-related memory issues is through its ability to enhance the normal production of glutathione—one of the body’s most powerful antioxidants.
See also Sleep Your Way to Brain Health
How to Find the Right Melatonin Dosage
I recommend melatonin supplementation in two forms:
1. Low Dose Melatonin, which allows one to find the lowest possible individual dose.
2. Melatonin HP, which is a time-release supplement that delivers 3 mg of melatonin for 6 straight hours—the dose used in most scientific studies.
Details of how to take each of these for different health concerns can be found here.