Epilepsy Talk

Epilepsy and Melatonin – Yes? No? Or Maybe So? | November 19, 2012

Most of us are familiar with melatonin and it’s purpose: To help you sleep. Or at least to help you get to sleep. In fact, melatonin is one of the most commonly used supplements in the United States. (Lots of sleepless people out there!)

Scientifically speaking, melatonin is a hormone synthesized from serotonin, the “feel good” hormone. It’s secreted from the pineal gland (a pea-sized gland, near the center of your brain) over an exact 24-hour cycle.

This cycle is an important part of our circadian rhythm, the system that regulates numerous body functions over a twenty-four hour cycle, the most obvious of which is the sleep / wake cycle.

Around bedtime, melatonin rises, so you feel sleepy. Then the secretion of melatonin falls during the night, and by morning, levels are low.

Sounds pretty good, doesn’t it?

But we haven’t introduced the epilepsy wild card. That’s where the yes…no…and maybe so…come in.

Why all the controversy? Because no one really wants to take up the gauntlet. You can’t patent melatonin (remember, it’s a natural hormone), therefore BIG Pharma has nothing to gain. As a result, clinical trials are few and far between.

But some brave souls have tried. Read the outcomes, (confusing though they may be).


It’s obvious why melatonin is important in epilepsy. Because inadequate sleep contributes to drowsiness during the day, memory problems and intractable seizures. The longer you go without adequate sleep, the greater your chances of increased or worsening seizures.

And epilepsy itself, or the antiepileptic drugs used to control epilepsy, may result in decreased melatonin levels, according to the results of a study published in the September 2010 issue of “Medical Science Monitor,” an international medical journal focusing on clinical and experimental research.

Here’s the good news: A pilot study was done to investigate melatonin’s effectiveness for treating sleep / wake cycle disturbances and the ability to decrease epileptic seizure frequency, with no long term side-effects.

The 10 patients were aged 9 to 32 years old and had intractable epilepsy. Patients were randomized to receive melatonin (10 mg daily at bedtime) followed by a placebo or a placebo followed by melatonin for 3 weeks each, with a 1-week washout period in between.

Seizure frequency was monitored by daily diaries, recordings and behavior and sleep patterns were rated by caregivers. Daytime seizures decreased significantly with melatonin compared with the placebo. No major side-effects or seizure aggravation was documented.

The scientists concluded that melatonin could be effective and safe for decreasing daytime seizure frequency in patients with intractable epilepsy.

Moreover, melatonin could significantly reduce your dose of antiepileptic drugs, and reduce their side-effects.

And it can be a potential adjunct to antiepileptic drugs, achieving a therapeutic effect at lower concentrations, therefore limiting their dose-related toxicities.

Also, melatonin supplements can have a direct anticonvulsant effect on photosensitive epilepsy and partial epilepsy. But without clinical trials, the actual usefulness of melatonin to treat seizures independently of its beneficial sleep effects is unknown.


Melatonin has been reported to exhibit antiepileptic properties in clinical trials. But, recent animal studies have demonstrated that melatonin can have the opposite effect on brain function, depending on the dose and timing of melatonin administration. (You knew there had to be a “but.”)

In other words, while high pharmacological doses are able to decrease brain excitability and suppress seizures, smaller doses of melatonin (administered at night when melatonin levels in the brain are highest), can actually increase the excitability of neurons, making them more susceptible to seizure activity.

This process may be involved with certain forms of nocturnal epilepsy. Thus, seizures can be a side-effect of melatonin.

And the relatively high doses of melatonin required to inhibit experimental seizures can also induce cognitive and motor impairments and decreased body temperature.

In addition, melatonin has been shown to cause EEG abnormalities in patients with temporal lobe epilepsy and increase seizure activity in neurologically disabled children.

The good news is that the hormone showed very low toxicity in clinical practice. The reported adverse effects (sleep disorders, nightmares and hypotension) were rare and mild.

However, more placebo-controlled, double-blind randomized clinical trials are needed to establish the usefulness of melatonin in the adjunctive treatment of epilepsy.


The role of melatonin in seizure disorders is controversial. And so is the research. (That’s an understatement!)

Some researchers have suggested that melatonin may lower seizure threshold and increase the risk of seizures, particularly in children with severe neurological disorders. But then, multiple other studies actually report reduced seizures with regular melatonin use.  So you can see why it’s (very) confusing.

Side-effects of melatonin treatments in children haven’t yet been reported. And although test results are promising, once again, specific studies to resolve the problems of dosage, formulation, (slow or fast release) and length of treatment are necessary.

I’m sorry to sound like a broken record, but it seems like nobody really gives a hoot about melatonin except a small number of researchers and those of us who take it.

While it’s clear that it can’t and won’t replace our AEDs, it’s sure nice to get a good night’s sleep.

And if it’s friendly to your body chemistry and meds, without side-effects, that’s good news.

But before you buy and try, speak to your doc to see if melatonin might help or harm (or have no effect) on your AEDs and seizure activity.

Just because it works for me, doesn’t mean it’s the right answer for you. But I sure hope it can help. Because as far as I’m concerned, it’s a dream come true!

Another article of interest:

Melatonin May Aid in Migraine Prevention


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  1. I take melatonin, it sure helps me to fall asleep, otherwise im awake most of night. My father suggested I try it.


    Comment by jennifer — November 19, 2012 @ 5:44 PM

  2. It sure does the trick for me. I’ve been taking it for years!


    Comment by Phylis Feiner Johnson — November 19, 2012 @ 6:34 PM

  3. It’s the amt. my Epileptologist told me. I take a lot of medication that is sedating. I use 1/4 dropper, of it if that amt. It knocks me out like a light. My sz meds, should have me sleepwalking but once in a while. I have trouble sleeping..


    Comment by Toni Robison — November 19, 2012 @ 6:59 PM

  4. Hi, I take 1 mg of Melatonin once in awhile when I cannot sleep. It works and it does not affect my epilepsy.



    Comment by Ruth Brown — November 19, 2012 @ 7:21 PM

  5. How fascinating – thanks for the info! I’ll talk to my dr about it.


    Comment by letizia — November 20, 2012 @ 4:47 PM

  6. Hope it’s of some help to you!


    Comment by Phylis Feiner Johnson — November 20, 2012 @ 6:51 PM

  7. I occasionally take 1mg capsule melatonin for extra deep sleep and feel pretty refreshed. I also find ear plugs as I’m sensitive to noise, dogs barking, cars, etc., and then an eye mask to block out any light coming into the room. Trying to get the best quality sleep possible, goodnight=)


    Comment by Aje — November 21, 2012 @ 3:26 AM

    • Sounds like you have all bases covered! 🙂

      But you might want to consider upping your melatonin to 3mg. I know it works, at least for me, without any “hangover” or side-effects.


      Comment by Phylis Feiner Johnson — November 22, 2012 @ 11:00 AM

  8. The information would be great if the headings were clearer. Under ‘Yes’ does this mean studies indicate this information is indeed true? I believe that is what you mean. Under the heading ‘No’ do the findings indicate that the information is not true, or the studies are not valid? I’m not quite sure how to interpret the heading. For me, the headings are a bit confusing. The information is great so it would be helpful to know better how to interpret the great information that you provide.


    Comment by Carol — April 10, 2013 @ 10:43 AM

  9. The headline is meant to convey the fact that there are pluses and minuses to melatonin.

    For some, melatonin is a good thing. For others, it is detrimental.

    The article is meant to convey all aspects of the decision to take melatonin.


    Comment by Phylis Feiner Johnson — April 10, 2013 @ 11:01 AM

  10. My son is 12 and has moderate Autism, we started him on Melatonin a few yrs. ago. None of his Drs. objected to the use of it, a few months into it and he had his first seizure. I was told it(epilepsy) often coincides with those challenged with Autism. He was doing great on his meds and was seizure free for a yr, also I did not give him any Melatonin. Until he broke a tooth at school and was in horrific pain as a result of this and a few other dental issues. This continued for a year and half, all the while we continued the Melatonin regiment, he has started having what they call episodes and say this is something they often see in children like my son. His most recent EEG was a few weeks ago and his Dr. said it showed partial seizures before/now and now/also general seizures. I had suspected there might be a link to the Melatonin and after reading this, believe their is definitely a link. Whats so disturbing is that within the Autism community many people discuss using Melatonin for their children, however no one that I’ve heard from is pointing out the possible link to seizures. With so many children who have challenges taking Melatonin there needs to be some Drs. saying, ‘whoa hold up here maybe he/she shouldn’t be taking Melatonin.’ IDK, I’m not a Dr… I’m just a concerned parent trying to figure this out, but this is a great informative article. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

    Comment by Traci — May 27, 2013 @ 3:57 PM

  11. Thank YOU Traci for both your insight and advice!

    I don’t know if this is relevant to you Traci, but according to Science Daily, new research suggests that for children with autism, four anti-epileptic drugs: Depakene, Depakote, Eilim, (valproic acid), Lamictal, (lamotrigine), Keppra, (levetiracetam) and Zarotin (ethosuximide), were reported to most often reduce the number or lessen the severity of seizures.

    But on average, they had little positive or negative effect on the other symptoms of autism.



    Comment by Phylis Feiner Johnson — May 27, 2013 @ 4:18 PM

  12. Interesting article. Although it seems to me that from the limited amount of studies done (so far), the patients in the trials probably have a “normal” sleep cycle. (Being awake during the day, and sleep at night.) While most everyone has that same type of sleep cycle, a small fraction of people….like myself….whose sleep cycle is reversed. I have always been a night owl. So, I’m wondering how well it would work for people like myself. Of course there are some days that I do have trouble sleeping. To add to the confusion, in the day when I get home from work I only sleep for a few hours before going to another job. Then come home and sleep for a few more hours. I know that it sounds strange, and not healthy, but I’ve been doing it for years and my body is used to it. Then on my days off, I’ll just sleep in. Boy does that feel good!!


    Comment by Sean — December 25, 2014 @ 2:00 AM

  13. Is it sleeping or is it napping?

    Studies have shown that 10-45% of people with epilepsy have seizures that occur predominantly or exclusively during sleep, whereas 34% have seizures upon awakening and 21% have diffuse seizures (while both awake and asleep).

    Sleep activates electrical charges in the brain that result in seizures and seizures are timed according to the sleep-wake cycle.

    For some people, seizures occur exclusively during sleep. Others have seizures as they are falling asleep or waking up, and still others have seizures randomly spread throughout the day or night.

    So, it’s a mixed bag. That’s why melatonin may — or may not — work.


    Comment by Phylis Feiner Johnson — December 26, 2014 @ 11:28 AM

    • I am new to this subject, so please be patient as I learn.😌

      So then in which type of seizures is melatonin good. My son has had 3 seizures all while sleeping or when nearing waking up. Also wondering when would be the best time for him to take it so (as the article says) it doesn’t increase his chances of more seizures.


      Comment by Suzanne — May 14, 2015 @ 7:00 PM

      • Suzanne, it sounds to me that your son has Nocturnal Seizures

        The Nightmare of Nocturnal Seizures


        I don’t think Melatonin would be for him. It’s a low-powered herbal supplement and he needs more care than that.

        Have you seen your neuro about this? Has he been tested?

        According to an article in Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery & Psychiatry, if more than 90 percent of your seizures occur while sleeping, you are said to have sleep seizures.

        The article also notes that an estimated 7.5 percent to 45 percent of people who have epilepsy have some form of sleep seizures.

        Nocturnal seizures are associated with certain types of epilepsy, including:
        Juvenile myoclonic
        Awakening grand mal
        Benign rolandic (also called benign focal epilepsy of childhood)
        Electrical status epilepticus of sleep
        Landau-Kleffner syndrome (LKS)
        Frontal onset seizures

        Doctors evaluate a number of factors to diagnose epilepsy and determine the type. Factors include:
        The type of seizures you have
        The age when you began having seizures
        Family history of epilepsy

        To diagnose epilepsy, doctors may use:
        Images of electrical activity in your brain recorded by an electroencephalogram (EEG)
        The structure of your brain as shown in a computed tomography (CT) scan or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
        A record or diary of your seizure activity

        Sleep studies (Polysomnography) with expanded EEG aids can indicate the difference between seizures and parasomnias.

        If being observed in a sleep lab, there is a decrease in rapid eye movement (REM) and an increase in the lighter stages of sleep, according to the article “Nocturnal Seizures,” by Carl W. Bazil, MD, PhD.

        I think this is more than not being able to sleep and you should speak with your neuro about it, now.


        Comment by Phylis Feiner Johnson — May 15, 2015 @ 9:01 AM

  14. […] https://epilepsytalk.com/2012/11/19/e…o-or-maybe-so/) I've taken it in "SuperSnooze" to help me sleep with no adverse effects. But my seizure […]


    Pingback by Melatonin : A Cautionary tale - Epilepsy Forum — February 2, 2015 @ 8:48 PM

  15. I have been taking Melatonin for over 6 months now and I sleep better than I have in years. My Primary Care Dr and my Neurologist, both, have no problem with me taking it.


    Comment by Debby — February 6, 2015 @ 9:15 AM

  16. Happily the same goes for me. Better Melatonin that prescription drugs!


    Comment by Phylis Feiner Johnson — February 6, 2015 @ 9:20 AM

  17. I have complex partial seizures. Even with Carbamezapine (Tegretol) & Levetiracetam (Keppra) I still had been having one monthly episode of one or two seizures in a cluster. I began taking 5mg of melatonin about 2 hours before bed simply to help me keep a more consistent sleep schedule as I’ve always had sleep issues, mostly difficulty falling asleep in a timely manner. I’m sure many epileptics do. Now I’ve been seizure free for the 2.5 months I’ve been taking melatonin. That is by no means scientific, but for me it seems to work well in conjunction with my AEDs. So I say yay! Though I realize it may work differently for different people. Hopefully someday more research could be done.


    Comment by George Abroozeez — April 1, 2015 @ 9:05 PM

  18. Double yay! The only difference is that I take it in the middle of the night, when I can’t sleep. Works like a charm!!!

    P.S. Here’s some interesting info from the Mayo Clinic. (Especially the last paragraph.)


    On page two, there’s “Uses based on tradition or theory”.

    At least someone is paying attention!


    Comment by Phylis Feiner Johnson — April 2, 2015 @ 9:01 AM

  19. My nutritional doctor said I can take 10-20 mg but the neurologist said to start low and see how I react. I think I will start with 1 mg to play it safe (and make my husband happy) maybe increasing gradually after a few weeks etc. Thanks for the info!


    Comment by bobbi55 — September 2, 2015 @ 12:52 PM

  20. Good idea to start slow.

    I take 3 mg. (Maybe I should take more?)


    Comment by Phylis Feiner Johnson — September 2, 2015 @ 1:01 PM

  21. My doctor put me on two different types of benzos (drugs in the valium family). I am now being weaned off one of those benzos. I am down to just one half of one tablet once a day and I started taking one 3mg tablet of melatonin, and I haven’t had one seizure in nine days, plus I’ve slept through the night and haven’t been tired during the day. That is a total 100% improvement for me. So far, so good.


    Comment by Dean Lemke — November 13, 2015 @ 12:44 AM

  22. YAY! Hooray for you!

    (I take 3mg also.)


    Comment by Phylis Feiner Johnson — November 13, 2015 @ 8:39 AM

  23. Hi Phylis: Geez, Rereading this is interesting-my sleep cycle’s been very messed up for a long while now. Because of a thyroid problem, I was very hyperthyroid for a long time, and now that I’m more regulated, I still have the insomnia, and my “bedtime” seems to come later and later. I don’t want to take the prescription sleeping pills as I’m already messed up, and don’t need the extra confusion/sleepiness. Your article mentioned sleep cycle disruption-do you think this might address my situation?

    Liked by 1 person

    Comment by dee — December 8, 2015 @ 2:41 PM

    • I have been taking melatonin with my meds for 2 years now with my doctors approval and have had no problems. I sleep through the night.


      Comment by Debby Heinz — December 8, 2015 @ 2:56 PM

    • I’m no doc, but it sounds like it, Dee. (I know — for what it’s worth — that I take Melatonin.)


      Comment by Phylis Feiner Johnson — December 8, 2015 @ 3:00 PM

  24. It helped me for awhile but I don’t think it is 100% the answer.

    Liked by 1 person

    Comment by jennyme3062015 — May 13, 2016 @ 3:32 PM

  25. I agree. But for those of us it helps, it’s more desirable than sleeping pills!


    Comment by Phylis Feiner Johnson — May 13, 2016 @ 4:21 PM

    • I was having trouble falling asleep and was recommended Melatonin. I mentioned it to my doctor and got the approval. I have been taking it for over a year now and have had NO problems.


      Comment by Debby Heinz — May 14, 2016 @ 8:17 AM

  26. YAY! Great to hear! 🙂


    Comment by Phylis Feiner Johnson — May 14, 2016 @ 9:50 AM

  27. Thank you for this article. I just started using it (5mg) as my neurologist recommended I try it. As an insomniac with Epilepsy I have been struggling and while practicing meditation and other relaxing techniques works sometimes, I have a hard time ‘turning my mind off’…thus I needed Ativan to fall asleep.

    I took one Melatonin last night and it did nothing for me, so I took another one 4 hours later but still nothing. It makes me tired yes, but again, it’s my crazy active mind that keeps racing. I will keep trying it along with my other relaxation techniques and my seizures are controlled so finger’s crossed! Would much rather the natural approach any day!


    Comment by Tamara — May 10, 2017 @ 2:07 PM

  28. I take 2 5mg tablet a night. Maybe that will work for you.

    I love it. No side-effects and no morning “hang-over”.


    Comment by Phylis Feiner Johnson — May 10, 2017 @ 2:38 PM

  29. Reblogged this on catsissie.


    Comment by catsissie — August 14, 2017 @ 11:52 PM

  30. I rub the area on my forehead left of center near the left eye brow above that area. Rubbing that spot releases MELATONIN that the brain makes, & there is NO MSG’s by doing that, where all supplements of this melatonin will DECREASE seizure thresholds & MORE seizures are possible from the Melatonin supplements. Of course WALMART now is taking off the shelves NATURE MADE pills of MELATONIN with very little MSG in that, but FOOD DYES are as bad as using MSG’s to keep you EXCITED & AWAKE.


    Comment by C D — September 7, 2017 @ 9:33 PM

    • Geeze, I wish my memory was better (no kidding), so I could remember your natural Melatonin tip. Can I tell others about it? How completely brilliant. CD, you’re always so smart, but now you’ve outdone yourself. How did you learn that?


      Comment by Phylis Feiner Johnson — September 7, 2017 @ 9:42 PM

    • I take Melatonin to help me sleep at night. I have to say I have never had a problem and my Doctors approve.


      Comment by Debra Heinz — September 8, 2017 @ 7:55 AM

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    About the author

    Phylis Feiner Johnson

    Phylis Feiner Johnson

    I've been a professional copywriter for over 35 years. I also had epilepsy for decades. My mission is advocacy; to increase education, awareness and funding for epilepsy research. Together, we can make a huge difference. If not changing the world, at least helping each other, with wisdom, compassion and sharing.

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