It’s commonly known that adults should be getting seven to eight hours of sleep every night, but these days, sleep can be hard to come by. In fact, the use of melatonin for sleep has been on the rise for the last 20 years and today more adults than ever are using melatonin supplements to help them get a better night’s rest—but what does that have to do with your hair?
Turns out, melatonin is involved in a lot more than just our sleep cycles. Keep reading to uncover what we know about melatonin and hair growth, and find out how to get thicker, fuller hair so you can sleep sound at night.
What Is Melatonin?
Melatonin is a hormone primarily made in the pineal gland (a small gland in the brain) and it’s an important regulator of our wake and sleep cycles. Melatonin helps guide our sleep patterns by cueing our physiological tempo to slow down at night for rest and then gear up during the day for activity. The sleep and wake cycle is one of many circadian rhythms in the body, which describe the physical, mental, and behavioral changes that follow a 24-hour cycle.
And while most folks associate melatonin with sleep, it’s a hormone that seems to play a role in a number of other bodily systems and functions, too. From a research perspective, there is a lot more to be uncovered around melatonin’s functions in the body but we’ve observed that it seems to play a role in:
- Eye health
- Immune function
- Blood pressure
- Cortisol levels
- Seasonal depression
- Acid reflux
- Protecting the skin from UV, among other things.
Melatonin also has strong antioxidant properties.
Melatonin and Hair Cycles
There is an interesting connection between melatonin and hair follicles that is still not fully understood, but it seems to be related to the normal hair cycle our follicles go through. Your follicles go through four different cycles when it comes to hair growth:
- Anagen: The active growth stage when the follicle is producing hair
- Catagen: The stage when growth slows and stops
- Telogen: The stage when the hair follicle rests
- Exogen: The stage when the follicle sheds the hair shaft and begins a new cycle
“Melatonin appears to play a role in hair growth and pigmentation,” explained Dr. Erum Ilyas, board-certified dermatologist and founder of AmberNoon.
The hair follicles synthesize melatonin and contain melatonin receptors. In addition to playing a role in creating pigments for each hair shaft, research suggests that melatonin also seems to play a role in regulating the hair growth cycle—though exactly how is not yet fully understood.
Early research has shown that melatonin impacts how our hair follicles interact with estrogen, another hormone important for hair growth, and that melatonin might also be able to extend the anagen stage of the hair cycle.
Explore: Products for Thinning Hair
Does Melatonin Prevent Hair Loss?
So can melatonin prevent hair loss? Research still has a lot to uncover on this front, though early human studies have shown some interesting and promising results for one particular form of hair loss called androgenetic alopecia (also known as AGA).
Male androgenetic alopecia and female androgenetic alopecia are very common forms of hair loss experienced by about 80 million men and 30 million women in the United States. Also known as female and male pattern baldness, AGA happens primarily as a result of genetics and aging.
Several small studies have shown that when applied topically, melatonin has had positive effects on men and women with AGA by decreasing hair loss and thereby increasing visible hair density.
“In studies on topical melatonin, it has been demonstrated to potentially increase or prolong the growth phase of human hair follicles,” said Dr. Ilyas.
A 2012 review from the International Journal of Trichology collected the results of five different clinical studies that looked at the use of a topical melatonin solution for men and women with androgenetic alopecia. In the majority of cases, topical melatonin was well-tolerated and seemed to reduce hair shedding while also increasing hair density.
Among other findings, folks with AGA lost fewer hairs when they underwent a hair pull test and reported a decrease in self-perceived thinning hair. While the exact mechanisms as to how melatonin might promote hair growth aren’t yet known, it seems that topical melatonin treatment might induce and prolong the anagen phase of growth.
“It is unclear based on studies if the impact of melatonin on hair growth is regulated directly by its interaction with the melatonin receptors in the follicle or indirectly through interactions with estrogen and androgen receptors on hair follicles,” added Dr. Ilays.
In addition to the potential for prolonging hair growth, since melatonin is a strong antioxidant research has also suggested that it could combat the oxidative stress that is thought to be associated with hair loss and hair aging.
Melatonin, Sleep and Hair Growth
Since melatonin and sleep are so closely connected, can poor sleep quality and hygiene impact your hair?
While a direct link between poor sleep and hair growth has not been definitely established, sleep is vital for the regulation of many bodily functions and good sleep is certainly important in a holistic view of hair (and general!) health. Sleep is important for regulating hormones, and in turn hormones play an important role in hair follicle function.
“A good and restorative night's sleep is required for the protein synthesis of the hair and for the release of enzymes and growth hormones that are necessary for overall hair health,” said Dr. Enrizza P. Factor, a board-certified dermatologist with My Vitiligo Team.
Don’t Sleep on This: Does a Lack of Sleep Cause Hair Loss?
A Holistic Approach to Hair Health
Hair health begins with general health and well-being, and sleep is certainly a pillar when it comes to a holistic approach to being a healthy and happy human. In addition to sleep, here are a few other tools to add to your hair wellness toolkit.
A diverse and well-balanced diet is important for hair health, since our follicles need a variety of vitamins and nutrients to function at their best. Healthy fats and proteins, along with iron, zinc and vitamins A, C, E and B-7 (biotin) are some of the essentials that can come from including a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and seeds in your diet. If you're not getting enough of these nutrients from your diet, consider adding a daily hair vitamin to your routine.
When stress levels spike it can impact both your mental and physical health, including your hair. ‘Stress management’ might sound like a daunting task in the face of modern life and uncontrollable forces like a global pandemic, but relieving stress and reducing levels of the stress level cortisol need not be complicated.
Think: spending time in nature, yoga and meditation, cuddling with a pet or having a good laugh, and, yes, getting a good night’s sleep—all science-backed ways to get more zen.
More Zen Please: 9 Ways to Lower Cortisol Naturally
Tweak Your Hair Care Routine
Think about how your everyday hair care routine might be impacting your follicles. Do you wear lots of tight ponytails or tight braids? Are you heat styling on the daily? Do you often get chemical treatments? Could your shampoo or conditioner contain ingredients that might be doing more harm than good? Think about adding a little extra follicular support to your routine with a hair serum such as GRO+ Advanced Hair Serum, which has been shown to promote fuller and thicker looking hair in as little as 90 days, with a full money-back guarantee.
Let’s get physical! Moving your body is another way to support healthy hair and help boost hair growth. Not only does regular exercise help maintain body weight, reduce the risk of heart diseases, help regulate blood sugar and insulin levels, but it also stimulates blood flow in the entire body and this is an added bonus for your hair. Follicles depend on blood flow to deliver the oxygen, vitamins and nutrients they need to do their important work.
Melatonin is widely known for its importance in supporting our sleep cycle, but new research is uncovering that this hormone plays a number of different roles in the body. Our hair follicles contain melatonin receptors, and melatonin seems to play a role in hair growth and in regulating hair cycles, though these roles are not yet clearly understood.
Initial research has shown that applying melatonin topically might be helpful in prolonging hair growth and improving hair density for men and women with one particular form of hair loss called androgenetic alopecia, though more research will be needed to understand its therapeutic benefits and to establish topical melatonin solutions as a hair loss treatment. If you’re interested in using topical melatonin for hair thinning or hair loss, be sure to consult with your doctor or dermatologist, and also explore topical serums designed to combat thinning hair.
More From VEGAMOUR:
- Medications That May Cause Hair Loss
- 9 Biotin-Rich Vegan Foods for Healthy Hair
- How Long Does It Take to Grow Hair 12 Inches?
Photo credit: Vlada Karpovich/Pexels