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Is Melatonin Really Safe & Can You Take It Every Night?
Dec 08, 2020
Quick Health Scoop
Melatonin is a hormone naturally produced in the body
Melatonin helps normalize the sleep/wake cycle
Short-term use of melatonin is generally thought to be safe with minimal side effects
More research is needed on the long-term effects of melatonin usage
If you regularly struggle to fall asleep—or stay asleep—you might be thinking about taking melatonin, a 100% drug-free sleep aid. Of course, practicing better sleep habits should be your first line of defense. But when you’re doing all the right things and they’re not working, you might turn to melatonin. Unlike traditional “sleeping pills” (which are actually considered medications and can have serious side effects1), melatonin can typically be found in the dietary supplements aisle at U.S. stores. But is melatonin safe? And if so, is it okay to take melatonin every night?
What Exactly Is Melatonin?
The brain naturally produces melatonin, a hormone, and it plays a key role in regulating the body’s sleep/wake cycle.2 As it gets dark outside, the brain increases the production of melatonin and as it gets light, the brain decreases production. That explains why exposure to light, especially blue light, in the evening (such as staring at a computer, mobile phone or watching TV) can hinder the production of melatonin.3
Melatonin may help with certain issues such as delayed sleep-wake phase disorder, jet lag, and some sleep disorders in children.3
It can also be helpful for those who are shift workers. Research suggests that melatonin promotes sleep and is relatively safe to take on a short-term basis. 2 A meta-analysis of 19 studies concluded that melatonin reduces the amount of time it takes to fall sleep, increases total sleep time and improves overall sleep quality.”4 However, more studies are needed on the safety of long-term melatonin use.
While melatonin is generally considered safe, certain people shouldn’t take melatonin, including women who are pregnant or breastfeeding and people with an autoimmune disorder, a seizure disorder or depression.5 For people with dementia, the 2015 guidelines by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommend against using melatonin. 3 Also, because melatonin can interfere with a variety of medications (see section below), talk with your health care professional if you are taking any medicine before taking melatonin. For kids, discuss with your family’s pediatrician whether or not melatonin is right for your child.
When it comes to proper dosage, how much melatonin is safe? Generally, the safest amount of melatonin to take ranges in doses of 0.5–10 mg per day. However, it really depends on your age and your specific sleep issue. 6 Typically, it’s best to start with a lower dose and then increase it (if needed) to find what works best for you.
While most studies say that melatonin is safe for short-term use, they don’t specifically define a period of time. And there’s no consensus in the medical community on what safe “short-term use” means, so you might find mixed messages about how long you can safely take melatonin every night. Some say if you’re taking a melatonin supplement as a sleep aid and it isn’t helping after one or two weeks, stop using it. And if taking melatonin does help, it’s safe for most people to take nightly for two to three months.”5
Research shows that the side effects of taking melatonin are mild, including dizziness, headache, nausea, and sleepiness. 3 Though less common, other side effects of taking melatonin might include abdominal cramps, abnormally low blood pressure, confusion or disorientation, irritability, mild anxiety, mild tremor, reduced alertness, and short-lasting feelings of depression.2
Keep in mind that, since melatonin can cause daytime drowsiness, you shouldn’t drive or operate machinery within eight hours of taking it. 2
As mentioned above, melatonin has limited adverse effects. But is melatonin habit forming? Fortunately, there is limited evidence of habituation and tolerance.8 In fact, you’re unlikely to become dependent on melatonin, have a reduced response after continual use (habituation) or feel a hangover effect. 2
Can You Take Melatonin With Alcohol Or Other Drugs?
In general, alcohol (especially if consumed in excess) can interfere with sleep and has been associated with poor sleep quality and duration.9 So, you might wonder if you can take melatonin after drinking. Consuming alcohol before going to bed can reduce melatonin levels and may affect sleep. Furthermore, while “low levels of melatonin are seen in those with alcohol use disorder (AUD), melatonin supplementation doesn’t improve their sleep.” 6
As mentioned earlier, melatonin can interact with a variety of medications, including anticonvulsants, antidepressants, blood pressure medication, blood thinners, diabetes medications, immunosuppressants, and oral contraceptives. 6 It’s wise to check with your physician before taking melatonin, especially if you have a health condition or take any medications.
The Bottom Line
Generally speaking, melatonin may help otherwise healthy adults fall asleep quicker and stay asleep longer, and it’s particularly helpful for people with insomnia, jet lag, shift workers and sleep-related disorders. Melatonin is relatively safe to take on a short-term basis, but more research is needed on the long-term effects of melatonin usage.
To harness the sleep-inducing effects of melatonin, practice good sleep habits like avoiding alcohol close to bedtime, dimming the lights, and putting away the screens. Most importantly, talk with your healthcare provider about whether or not melatonin is right for you.
This information is only for educational purposes and is not medical advice or intended as a recommendation of any specific products. Consult your health care provider for more information.
Lisa Beach is a seasoned journalist whose work has been published in The New York Times, Good Housekeeping, Eating Well, Parents, AARP’s Disrupt Aging, Optimum Wellness, and dozens more. She also writes for a variety of health/wellness-focused brands. Check out her writer’s website at www.LisaBeachWrites.com.
Dr. Keri Marshall is an Epidemiologist and Naturopathic Doctor, with over 20 years of experience in the Natural Product Industry and in clinical practice. She’s a recognized expert in nutrition, Omega 3 fats, and integrative medicine for women, children and chronic disease management. Dr. Marshall is an international speaker, has published several scientific papers across a range of health topics and is also the author of a book on protein and amino acids. She is currently the Director of Medical and Scientific Communications for Pharmavite.
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