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How Melatonin Affects Dreams
Mar 19, 2021
To help fall asleep or stay asleep, some people take a melatonin supplement†
Melatonin helps regulate your circadian rhythm—your internal clock that regulates the sleep/wake cycle†
Dreaming can happen during both non-REM sleep and REM sleep.
The dreams that occur during REM sleep tend to be more vivid.
If one of your health goals is to support your sleep—in terms of both quantity and quality—then you might occasionally reach for a melatonin supplement. While the brain naturally produces melatonin (a hormone that plays a key role in regulating the body’s sleep/wake cycle1), a melatonin supplement works as a 100% drug-free sleep aid. It appeals to people who occasionally need help falling or staying asleep but are wary of “sleeping pills”.
But what about melatonin dreams? Is there a link between melatonin and vivid dreams, weird dreams, or nightmares? Does melatonin affect your REM cycle?
Let’s dig into what the research says about melatonin, dreams, and the stages of sleep.
REM vs Deep Sleep: What’s The Difference?
Before looking at any connection between melatonin and dreams, it helps to understand the two main stages of sleep.
Non-REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep: When does non-REM sleep occur? This phase occurs first and is the change from wakefulness to sleep that consists of three sub-phases. It starts with a short, light sleep, where your heartbeat, breathing and eye movements slow down and your muscles start to relax, followed by another light sleep where your body and brain slow down and relax even further. Finally, you reach the deep sleep phase that you need to feel refreshed in the morning.2
REM sleep: When does REM sleep occur? This initially happens about 60 to 90 minutes after you fall asleep. Your eyes move rapidly from side to side (although your eyelids remain closed), your brain activity increases, your breathing gets faster and irregular, and your heart rate increases. Most of your dreaming occurs during REM sleep, although some can also occur in non-REM sleep. Also, memory is processed and stored during the REM sleep cycle.2 Your first REM period is short (about 10 minutes), but as the night goes on, you’ll experience longer REM sleep and less deep sleep.3
You’re not in each stage of sleep just once. Instead, you cycle repeatedly through all stages of sleep roughly four to six times a night, sometimes waking up briefly between cycles.4 How long is a sleep cycle? A full sleep cycle takes about 90 to 110 minutes.3
Melatonin And Dreams
Now that you understand the stages of sleep—and that dreams can occur anytime—let’s look at melatonin and dreams. While dreaming can happen during both non-REM sleep and REM sleep, the dreams that occur during REM sleep tend to be more vivid.
Some research has suggested that melatonin plays a role in your dreams, and here’s how it works.
Melatonin and vivid dreams: When you’re sleep deprived and are getting less than optimal periods of REM sleep, you’ll experience a longer-than-usual period of REM sleep when allowed to get sufficient sleep – a phenomenon known as REM rebound. Longer periods of REM sleep following sleep deprivation can result in vivid dreams and are totally normal.5 Also, a variety of other factors can contribute to vivid dreaming, including fragmented sleep, stress, medication, pregnancy, and sleep disorders.6
Melatonin and nightmares: When you have intense, vivid, or weird dreams with unsettling content, that’s a nightmare. There’s very little research (some of it conflicting) that shows melatonin affects it or how often you experience nightmares. (In fact, one study of people with REM sleep behavior disorder showed that taking melatonin supplements actually decreased frightening dreams.7) But as mentioned above, if you were sleep deprived prior to taking melatonin and can finally get a good night’s sleep, this can result in more vivid dreams.
If you want to stop having vivid dreams, practice good sleep hygiene (like maintaining a regular sleep schedule) and cultivate peace of mind (accepting both the good and the difficult experiences in life) by engaging in stress relieving practices such as yoga, mindfulness meditation and other relaxation exercises.6
What are other melatonin side effects—and how much should you take?
Besides the fact that you might experience more vivid dreams, the other side effects of taking melatonin are fairly mild. Research shows that melatonin side effects can include dizziness, headache, nausea, and sleepiness.8
When it comes to proper dosage, how much melatonin should you take? The safe amount of melatonin that can be taken ranges in doses of 0.5 to 10 mg per day, but it really depends on your age and specific sleep issue.9 Typically, it’s best to start with a low dose (0.5 to 5 mg) and increase it as needed (up to 10 mg), to find the lowest dose for you that is effective at promoting sleep without causing side effects.
Sleep. “Partial REM-sleep deprivation increases the dream-like quality of mentation from REM sleep and sleep onset.” September 2005. Accessed on: March 3, 2021. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16268377/
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.
Melissa is a registered dietitian (RD) and works in our Medical and Scientific Communications department as a Science and Health Educator. She has worked for Pharmavite for over 20 years educating consumers, healthcare practitioners, retailers and employees about nutrition, dietary supplements and overall wellness. Prior to joining the Medical and Scientific Communications team, Melissa launched and managed Pharmavite’s Consumer Relations department. Melissa received her Bachelor of Science degree in Nutritional Science, from the University of Arizona in Tucson, Arizona, and completed her dietetic internship at Veterans Affairs Medical Center in East Orange New Jersey.
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