Melatonin Delivered through Skin Patch Improves Sleep

Ruzanna Harutyunyan's picture

Melatonin supplementation can be a viable therapy for some of the 60 million Americans battling sleep problems, including those performing shift work and those suffering from jet lag. Researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) and Biotek Inc. found that transdermal delivery of melatonin, through a skin patch, is successful in maintaining sleep for several hours during daytime. Thus, a patch may have advantages over oral melatonin, whose effect is often short-lasting. This research appears in the July 15, 2009 issue of Clinical Pharmacology & Therapeutics.

Melatonin, a hormone naturally produced in the pineal gland and secreted at night time, plays an important role in regulating sleep. “Melatonin supplements can be used to treat jet lag and some sleep problems by inducing sleep, particularly during hours of daylight when natural melatonin production does not normally occur,” said Daniel Aeschbach, PhD, of the Division of Sleep Medicine at BWH. “A limitation of this treatment has often been an inability to maintain sleep though, because melatonin taken orally often wears off quickly, as it is rapidly removed from the body.”


Researchers studied eight participants who received either a patch containing 2.1 mg melatonin or no drug. The controlled inpatient setting simulated a change from a traditional nighttime sleep schedule to a sleep schedule typical for shift workers, where participants were asked to sleep during the morning and into the early evening. By measuring melatonin levels in the blood, the researchers found that participants receiving the active patch showed elevated melatonin levels for an extended duration, differing greatly from a typical melatonin profile after oral administration.

“The melatonin levels in the blood observed with the active patch resembled natural nighttime melatonin levels more closely than did those previously observed after oral administration of melatonin.” said Dr. Aeschbach. “And importantly, melatonin levels rose gradually, such that the peak concentration occurred in the early evening, during the latter part of the bed rest. We know – and shift workers know - that this is a time during which it is particularly difficult to remain asleep.” The researchers found that when the study participants wore the active patch, they were indeed able to maintain sleep better, and their sleep was more comparable to natural nighttime sleep.

Transdermal melatonin delivery may have promise not only for shift workers and individuals with jet lag, but also as a remedy against early-morning awakenings, a sleep problem frequently associated with older age. Dr. Aeschbach notes that future research needs to be aimed at testing transdermal melatonin delivery in different populations with specific sleep problems.