There can be downsides to using melatoninMedically reviewed by Elizabeth Cambria, PharmD
Melatonin is a hormone your body makes that helps regulate when you sleep and wake. Your body naturally produces melatonin when it darkens outside, but you can also take it as a supplement. People often take melatonin to help them get to sleep or stay asleep.
Melatonin is not a drug or a sleeping pill and is not addictive for kids or adults. It may be helpful with certain sleep disorders in adults and kids. Melatonin supplements for sleep are available as a tablet, caplets, sleepy tea, or gummies.
This article will cover what melatonin is, the reasons someone may use melatonin supplements, the benefits of melatonin, and the safety and dependency of melatonin supplements. It will also review how to take melatonin and the suggested dosages.
Using melatonin supplements as a sleep aid may help you fall asleep and stay asleep. Research has shown that melatonin can help with specific sleep-related conditions. The data does not support using melatonin as a treatment for insomnia.
Jet lag is the tiredness people experience from changing from one time zone to another, usually after a long flight and especially when traveling east. Some studies have shown that melatonin supplements may help prevent or treat jet lag.
Discuss your case with a sleep specialist to prevent or treat jet lag with melatonin. The protocols differ based on the direction of travel and the number of time zones crossed. You can also look for a jet lag app or online calculator.
Another step to correct jet lag is light exposure first thing in the morning and darkness in the evening to reset your circadian rhythm (internal clock).
What Are Circadian Rhythms?
The circadian rhythms that rule your sleep-wake cycle are the 24-hour cycles of the body’s physical, mental, and behavioral processes. They change in response to light and dark and to things like when you eat. A circadian rhythm is also called a biological clock.
Delayed sleep-wake phase disorder is a sleep disorder that makes a person’s natural sleep time two or more hours later than conventional or acceptable bedtime. This makes it hard to wake up at a regular time.
Some studies have suggested that melatonin supplements could help people with delayed sleep-wake phase disorder go to sleep earlier, but the evidence isn’t solid.
To treat delayed sleep-wake phase disorder, try a low dose of melatonin of about 0.5 milligrams (mg) an hour before the desired bedtime. Studies found that, along with lifestyle changes, this melatonin supplement helped people fall asleep earlier and sleep better during the first third of time in bed on treatment days.
Children with atopic dermatitis, asthma, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), or autism spectrum disorder may have trouble sleeping. Studies have suggested that melatonin supplements may help children with these disorders fall asleep quicker and stay asleep longer.
Talk to your child's healthcare provider if you are considering using melatonin to treat the child's sleep disorder.
About 80% of people feel anxious when faced with a surgical procedure. Studies have shown a melatonin supplement may be as effective as an antianxiety medication for this indication.
Talk to your healthcare provider to prevent or treat surgical anxiety with melatonin.
People who are blind may have trouble sleeping because they can’t detect light and therefore are missing a crucial cue that sets the sleep-wake cycle. In these people, taking melatonin at bedtime can help improve sleep.
To treat non-24-hour sleep-wake disorder with melatonin, take 0.5 mg of melatonin 40 minutes before bedtime.
Your melatonin cycle is one of many 24-hour circadian rhythms that regulate your body. These cycles determine when we feel sleepy and when we’re awake. Melatonin is controlled mainly by exposure to light.
The main factor disrupting the melatonin cycle is a lack of exposure to natural light early in the morning. This issue can occur seasonally when the days (and mornings, especially) get darker or if you live near the North or South Poles, where there are long dark seasons with barely any sun.
Other things that can disrupt the melatonin cycle are unusual sleep and wake hours (for example, shift work), a lack of sleep hygiene (habits that promote good sleep), exposure to too much bright or blue light during the evening, and a lack of physical activity during the day.
People also make less melatonin as they age. Illness, diet, and medications could also reduce melatonin production.
Generally, the best time to take a melatonin supplement is about 40 minutes before sleep. That’s about how long the hormone takes from your stomach into your blood.
The schedule for taking melatonin for jet lag varies with the direction of travel and the number of times zones crossed. It is best to consult a healthcare provider or use an app or online resource to determine when to use it for jet lag.
Start with the lowest dose of melatonin you can find if you’re taking it to help you sleep.
The pineal gland typically makes between 0.1 and 0.9 mg of melatonin daily. If you take an oral supplement, about one-third to one-half of it enters the bloodstream. So an adult dose from 0.3 mg to 5 mg should be sufficiently effective. Lower doses often work as well as higher doses, if not better.
In most cases, 10 mg of melatonin is too much melatonin. This high dose will often lead to blood levels much higher than are natural. This may increase your risk of side effects, especially daytime sleepiness.
It takes as little as 0.1 mg to 0.3 mg of melatonin to get blood levels of melatonin into the normal nighttime range for young adults.
More Is Not Better
If melatonin does not help you sleep, you may take too much. More is not better when it comes to melatonin. Often, a tiny dose is enough to increase your blood levels of this hormone to normal levels. Try taking less, and take active steps to improve your sleep hygiene and get activity and sunlight as early in the day as possible.
It’s OK to take melatonin daily for up to six months for adults and three months for children. Talk to a healthcare provider if you still have sleep issues after taking melatonin and after altering your lifestyle to improve your sleep and reset your circadian rhythm.
Melatonin supplements come in all kinds of formulations. They’re gummies, pills, dissolving tablets placed under the tongue, creams, gargles, and gels. Melatonin can also be found in sleepy-tea formulas. It comes in slow-release and fast-release options. Talk with a healthcare provider to determine the best product and dose for your needs.
Unlike over-the-counter sleep aids, which are considered medications, melatonin is regulated as a dietary supplement, not a drug, which is a less strict designation. Therefore, some melatonin supplements may not contain what’s listed on the label. Often, the drug amounts are much more significant than the manufacturer claims.
A 2017 study tested 31 melatonin supplements from grocery stores and pharmacies. For most melatonin supplements, the amount of melatonin in the product didn’t match what was listed on the product label. Also, 26% of the supplements contained serotonin, a hormone and chemical messenger (neurotransmitter) that can have harmful effects even at relatively low levels.
A 2023 study found that of 25 brands of melatonin gummies, a product often aimed at children, most had higher than the declared amount of melatonin. The actual melatonin dose in the gummies ranged from 74% to 347% of the amount on the label.
None of the products contained serotonin, but one had no melatonin and only cannabidiol (CBD), a cannabis product that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not approved for any indication in healthy children.
If you’re looking to buy a melatonin product, try those that have gone through the U.S. Pharmacopeia (USP), ConsumerLab.com, or NSF testing to verify the breakdown of their products. These are labeled as certified by USP, ConsumerLab, or NSF.
Melatonin is generally considered safe for most people to take for short periods. But there are still unanswered questions about possible side effects, especially in younger people and long-term users. Melatonin can help regulate the sleep-wake cycle, but it also plays other roles in the body—and these are not fully understood.
Is Melatonin Safe?
Yes, melatonin is safe for most people for short-term use. But, there’s still a lot of discussion and research about this topic in the medical community, especially when it comes to long-term use at higher levels and use in younger people, especially children.
Talk to a healthcare provider about potential drug interactions before taking melatonin. This is especially important for people taking:
If you’re taking melatonin with these drugs, stop taking the supplements and inform your healthcare provider.
There’s a possibility that you could have an allergic reaction to melatonin supplements.
Older people should avoid taking melatonin, especially in high doses, as the hormone can stay active longer in older people. This can lead to daytime drowsiness.
People who use melatonin report mild side effects, including:
The best way to fix melatonin side effects is to stop taking it or take a lower amount.
Melatonin supplements may interfere with certain medical conditions. People with these health issues should talk to a healthcare provider before taking melatonin:
There is not enough research about the safety of melatonin supplements during pregnancy or when nursing. Generally, taking melatonin supplements while pregnant is discouraged.
Giving melatonin to children may help them sleep better if their body clocks aren't working right or they have developmental problems. However, most normal sleep issues in children are better addressed by changing their schedule and habits or working to improve their behavior.
Before giving melatonin to your child, ask the child's healthcare provider if it's safe. Generally, melatonin supplements at normal doses seem OK for most children in the short term. The research lacks information about the safety and effectiveness of melatonin in children, especially in the long term.
Long-term use of melatonin supplements may affect puberty, menstrual cycles, or levels of prolactin (a hormone that affects breast development, sperm production, and the menstrual cycle).
Ensure the gummies aren't within arms reach. Since gummies look and taste like candy, kids won't understand the dangers of taking more medicine than needed. They may accidentally or intentionally overdose on the drug. In 2021, there were more than 50,000 calls to poison control about melatonin in kids under 19. Most of these calls were about children under 5 who had accidentally taken more melatonin than recommended.
Taking melatonin supplements every night won’t lead to dependence or addiction, but it may not help you solve your sleep problems. If you’re still having trouble sleeping, you may wonder what to do if melatonin doesn’t work.
First, talk to a healthcare provider about your sleep issues to ensure nothing else is causing them. Then consider how your lifestyle may be impacting your sleep.
If you’re trying to get better sleep at night, the two most important factors are getting early-morning light and improving your sleep hygiene. Sleep hygiene can include staying away from screens and dimming the lights before bed, bathing or another relaxation routine, and keeping the room dark at night and cool.
Ensure the bed is comfortable and avoid stimulants like caffeine in the hours before bed. Try blue-light-blocking glasses to increase natural melatonin production.
One way to fix your circadian rhythm is through light therapy first thing in the morning, especially if you’re up before the sun and need to be indoors for work. Get near a window or buy a medical-grade light therapy lamp.
Alternatives to melatonin include over-the-counter sleep aids like the antihistamine Benadryl (diphenhydramine) or Unisom (doxylamine). A type of drug called melatonin receptor agonist induces sleepiness through the melatonin receptor. These include Rozerem (ramelteon) and Hetlioz (tasimelteon), which are FDA-approved for treating insomnia and other sleep disorders.
You might consider CBD to help you sleep. This nonpsychoactive cannabis product has soothing, relaxing properties. While emerging and evolving, the research suggests that CBD may help with sleep.
If you’re dealing with insomnia, talk therapy is the best course of action. The results from cognitive-behavioral therapy for insomnia rival those you’d get from sleep medication—without side effects, reduced risk of relapse, and continued improvement after treatment ends.
Melatonin is a hormone that your body makes naturally, which makes you sleepy. Some people use melatonin supplements to improve their sleep. Melatonin supplements are available as tablets, caplets, tea, or gummies. Melatonin is not a drug or addictive.
Light exposure can disrupt your melatonin cycle, causing trouble sleeping. It helps to get outside in bright light early in the morning. But too much light from screens in the evening is bad for sleep. Other factors that disrupt the sleep-wake cycle include unusual sleep hours, poor sleep hygiene, and lack of physical activity.
Studies have shown that melatonin supplements may help people sleep better if they have jet lag, delayed sleep-wake phase disorder, anxiety before surgery, or non-24-hour sleep-wake disorder
Melatonin also is helpful for children with certain health conditions. Generally, exercise caution when giving melatonin to children. Talk to your pediatrician if your child is having trouble sleeping.
Possible side effects of melatonin supplements include headache, dizziness, nausea, sleepiness, and feeling hungover. Allergic reactions are also possible. Pregnant people should generally avoid melatonin supplements.
Follow the advice of a healthcare provider and instructions on the product when taking melatonin. Take melatonin about 40 minutes before sleep. The recommended dose for adults ranges from 0.3 mg to 5 mg. It is generally safe to take melatonin daily for up to six months for adults and three months for children.
There isn't enough research on the long-term effects of melatonin supplements in kids and teens. Talk to a healthcare provider before taking melatonin if you have certain medical conditions or are taking specific medicines.2023-06-07T18:57:20Z dg43tfdfdgfd