Melatonin, a hormone responsible for regulating sleep and wake cycles, has been widely used for medicinal purposes, especially in treating sleep disorders. Given the established relationship between sleep disturbances, depression, and self-harming behaviors, our research aimed to explore whether melatonin administration can reduce instances of self-harm in adolescents.
Our recent publication in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry throws light on the potential benefit of melatonin, especially among the youth.
In Sweden, melatonin’s reputation as a safer sleep aid with a lower risk of side effects, overdose, or dependency has made it a preferred prescription for young patients by pediatricians.
We based our research on data from over 25,000 Swedish adolescents aged 6 to 18 who started melatonin treatment between 2006 and 2013. The prescription-only status of melatonin in Sweden during this period enabled us to track its usage accurately. By comparing injury instances one year before and post-melatonin commencement and evaluating mental health diagnoses, we sought to discern any noticeable patterns.
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Interestingly, our data showed a consistent rate of unintentional injuries (like accidents) before and after melatonin treatment. However, incidents of self-harm and poisoning significantly increased right before the start of melatonin intake and saw a decrease of almost 50% post-treatment.
This spike in self-harm incidents before melatonin prescription suggests that the underlying symptoms possibly led to the doctor’s consultation. Notably, females were about five times more prone to self-infliction, making the decline in such cases after melatonin treatment even more significant.
Surprisingly, a whopping 87% of these youngsters were diagnosed with a mental disorder, with ADHD being the most common. A marked reduction in self-harm was especially evident among adolescent girls with mood or anxiety disorders. Even after excluding those on antidepressants, the results remained consistent. While melatonin’s role seems promising, it’s essential to consider other factors like psychotherapy or alternate psychiatric medication’s influence on the observed pattern.
Deciphering the “Why” Behind Melatonin’s Effect
Several theories could explain melatonin’s observed impact. Primarily, a well-rested mind might make better judgments, potentially leading to fewer suicidal tendencies or the choice to refrain from acting on such thoughts among those with depression or anxiety. Additionally, some studies indicate melatonin’s influence on pain perception, which might make individuals less inclined to self-harm.
While melatonin offers significant potential, it often works best as a part of a holistic treatment approach. We believe a combination of increased parental and medical monitoring, coupled with therapies and other treatments, might have influenced the positive behavioral shifts we observed.
Our findings indicate melatonin’s potential in reducing self-harming behaviors, particularly among adolescent girls with anxiety or depression. However, whether these results translate similarly to adults remains to be explored.
For youngsters grappling with sleep disturbances accompanied by anxiety or depressive symptoms, melatonin might be a beacon of hope. But, as always, even with over-the-counter drugs, it’s crucial to seek medical advice before initiating any treatment.