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 occasionally 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. 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.1 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.2
Melatonin supplementation may help with certain sleep-wake issues such as jet lag and shift work.2
Research suggests that melatonin promotes sleep and is relatively safe to take on a short-term basis.1 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.3 However, more studies are needed on the safety of long-term melatonin use.
While melatonin is generally considered safe, certain people shouldn’t take it. Do not use melatonin, unless advised by a physician, if you are pregnant, nursing, taking any medications, or have any chronic medical conditions. Melatonin is for occasional sleeplessness only. You should consult your physician if you experience sleep difficulties beyond two months. 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? Typically, it’s best to start with a lower dose and then increase it (if needed) to find what works best for you. 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.4
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. However, you can also try increasing the dose of melatonin to see if a slightly higher dose gives you the results you are looking for. And if taking melatonin does help, it’s safe for most people to take occasionally for two to three months.5 It’s always best to talk to your healthcare provider if your sleep issues continue.
Research shows that the side effects of taking melatonin are mild, including dizziness, headache, nausea, and sleepiness. 2 Though less common, other side effects of taking melatonin might include abdominal cramps, abnormally low blood pressure, confusion or disorientation, irritability, mild anxiousness, mild tremor, reduced alertness, and short-lasting feelings of depression.1
Keep in mind that, since melatonin can cause daytime drowsiness, you shouldn’t drive or operate machinery within eight hours of taking it. 1
As mentioned above, melatonin has limited adverse effects. But is melatonin habit forming? Fortunately, there is limited evidence of habituation and tolerance.4 In fact, you’re unlikely to become dependent on melatonin, have a reduced response after continual use (habituation) or feel a hangover effect. 1
Can You Take Melatonin With Alcohol Or Other Drugs?
In general, alcohol (especially if consumed in moderate or excess amounts) can interfere with sleep and has been associated with poor sleep quality and duration.6 So, you might wonder if you can take melatonin after drinking. Consuming alcohol before going to bed can reduce the natural production of melatonin and may negatively affect sleep.
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.1 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 sleep issues. Melatonin is relatively safe to take occasionally, 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. . Consult your health care provider for more information.
3 Costello, R.B., Lentino, C.V., Boyd, C.C. et al. The effectiveness of melatonin for promoting healthy sleep: a rapid evidence assessment of the literature. Nutr J 13, 106 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1186/1475-2891-13-106.
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.