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Sharp Health News

Can melatonin help prevent COVID-19?

March 22, 2021

Woman sleep at night illustration
Melatonin is a natural hormone produced by the brain to promote healthy sleep and regulate the body’s internal clock. It can also be taken in the form of a dietary supplement, and studies have shown melatonin to be effective in improving sleep and treating headaches, anxiety and other health conditions. Most recently, though, researchers have focused their attention on the effect melatonin might have on COVID-19 and the vaccines created to prevent it.

According to a Cleveland Clinic study, melatonin may help prevent COVID-19 or aid in the treatment of COVID-19 due to its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects. Researchers found that melatonin reduced the likelihood of study participants getting COVID-19 by 28%. Among Black participants — a population disproportionately affected by the disease — infection likelihood was reduced by 52%.

Another study found that taking melatonin to improve sleep in the 2 weeks prior to vaccination could help ensure that the vaccine is taken in the midst of optimal sleep conditions — when your immune system is at its best. Additionally, using melatonin for at least 4 weeks after receiving the vaccine may enhance the body’s immune response to the vaccine and even increase the length of time a person has immunity to COVID-19 after being vaccinated.

“The pandemic has absolutely changed people’s sleep patterns,” says Dr. Victoria Sharma, medical director of the Sharp Grossmont Hospital Sleep Disorder Center. “People are working from home or isolating at home and many have abandoned their regular schedule, which can wreak havoc on their sleep. In general, better sleep leads to better immunity, so finding ways to improve sleep is a good idea.”

More time and more research is needed
However, according to Dr. Sharma, it is important to remember that COVID-19 is a new disease and there is still much more to learn about it. While melatonin may be helpful in improving sleep or may provide anti-inflammatory effects beneficial in treating COVID-19, some of the studies seem to contradict one another.

“Getting better sleep improves your immunity, which can help the vaccine be more effective,” she says. “However, some studies found that melatonin may help fight COVID-19 by suppressing an overactive immune response. This leads me to think that taking melatonin during the time you’re being vaccinated could actually be counterproductive.”

Dr. Sharma suggests that more time and more research are needed to determine how melatonin might be of use in preventing COVID-19. And the National Institutes of Health (NIH) agrees, noting that current research looking at the effects of melatonin on COVID-19 is in the early stages, with just a few randomized controlled trials in progress.

Improve sleep to boost immunity
Until experts reach a conclusion on whether melatonin is helpful in preventing and treating COVID-19, Dr. Sharma encourages people to focus on improving the quality and quantity of their sleep to boost their immune system.

She offers the following recommendations:
  • Keep a regular schedule — try to eat, sleep and perform daily activities at the same time every day.
  • Find ways to reduce anxiety and stress, such as exercise and meditation, and avoid potentially stressful activities, such as watching the news, before bedtime.
  • Maintain a healthy diet and reduce or eliminate caffeine and alcohol intake, especially before bedtime.
While it is considered generally safe for short-term use, people should talk with their doctor before taking melatonin or any dietary supplement. Currently, the best way to prevent the spread of COVID-19 is to get vaccinated, wear a face covering in indoor public locations or among crowds, avoid sick people and wash hands often.

Get COVID-19 vaccine information and access to COVID-19 resources from Sharp HealthCare.

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