Melatonin is a hormone made in the brain's pineal gland. Natural melatonin helps regulate cycles of sleep and wakefulness. Levels of natural melatonin tend to fade with age. Melatonin is also sold as a supplement.
People with tinnitus sense ringing, roaring, or humming sounds in their ears. About 15 million people in the U.S. consider their tinnitus to be a significant problem, according to statistics cited in the new study.
The study appears in Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery. The researchers included Jay Piccirillo, MD, FACS, of Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.
The study included 18 adults with tinnitus. On average, the patients were about 61 years old and had had tinnitus for 11 years. All were seen at Washington University's department of otolaryngology-head and neck surgery.
First, patients rated their tinnitus symptoms and sleep quality. Then, they took 3 milligrams of melatonin every day for four weeks. The patients were monitored for four more weeks after they stopped taking the melatonin supplements.
The patients' ratings of their tinnitus symptoms and poor sleep improved during the study, even after they stopped taking melatonin. Perhaps the melatonin pills had long-lasting effects, the researchers note.
Sleep's Role, Study's Limits
Tinnitus eased most in patients with the worst sleep ratings at the study's start. Severity of tinnitus symptoms didn't affect the results.
Possibly, melatonin helps tinnitus by improving sleep, write the researchers. However, they also note several limits to their study.
The study was small and brief. Also, all the patients knew they were taking melatonin, which could have created a self-fulfilling belief that their condition would improve. The study didn't include a comparison group of patients taking empty pills (placebo).