Is It Bad to Take Melatonin Every Night? Here’s the Science
- Melatonin is a popular sleep aid widely used for travel jet lag and sleep problems.
- Short-term melatonin supplementation is generally safe at low doses, but more research is needed for its long-term effects.
- Some individuals may not do well with melatonin supplements, such as children and pregnant women.
- Certain supplements have higher or lower melatonin content than what's reported on their product labels.
- As a consumer, it’s crucial to do your research to ensure you get what you paid for.
Work demands and exam anxiety are just some common reasons adults and kids have trouble sleeping from time to time. If you, or your little one, need some help getting enough shut-eye, you may have heard of melatonin as a natural sleep aid. But is it bad to take melatonin every night?
Let’s explore what melatonin is, the upsides and downsides of supplementing with it, and how to choose one that’s safe for you and your family.
Melatonin: What You Need To Know
Just like how NutritionFacts.org puts it, melatonin is the “darkness hormone” produced in the pineal gland of your brain when it’s dark outside. Your body stops creating it in the presence of light, i.e., when the sun rises. This keeps your circadian rhythm (read: internal body clock) running smoothly by syncing your sleep cycle with the external light-dark cycle. In essence, your body’s melatonin production helps you sleep at night, and its absence helps you wake up in the morning.
So, if melatonin is naturally manufactured in your body, why is there a need to take its supplemental form?
According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, melatonin supplements are useful for:
- Travel jet lag: Traveling across different time zones knocks your sleep-wake cycle off balance. Naturally, you find it harder to fall asleep or stay awake. But some scientific evidence shows that melatonin supplements may help lessen sleep issues courtesy of jet lag.
- Delayed sleep-wake phase disorder: Some people have a later-than-usual sleep schedule. They only fall asleep after midnight and wake up from late morning onward. Well-timed melatonin supplementation has been scientifically proven to help correct this circadian rhythm sleep disorder.
- Sleep problems in children: Various health conditions, like obstructive sleep apnea, autism, and asthma, make it hard for kids to get a good night’s sleep. Thankfully, melatonin may help improve your child’s sleep patterns in these cases.
- Pre-surgery anxiety: Anxiety about an upcoming surgical procedure often leads to trouble sleeping in the nights before said operation. There is some documented evidence that melatonin may help with your sleep problems by calming your anxiety levels.
You may have heard shift workers and insomniacs can use melatonin to help them sleep better. But the American Academy of Sleep Medicine suggests otherwise. Instead, improve your sleep hygiene and try alternatives like cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBT-I).
Is It Bad to Take Melatonin Every Night?
Melatonin supplements seem to benefit everyone, from young to old. So, is it safe to take melatonin every night?
For now, the scientific literature shows that the short-term use of melatonin at low doses is generally safe. According to a 2017 review, the typical dose amount of melatonin is 1-5 milligrams. Higher doses of 9 milligrams or more were more likely to trigger melatonin side effects like headaches and drowsiness.
That said, more research is needed on the long-term effects and use of melatonin supplementation. A 2018 clinical trial tested the effectiveness of melatonin over a month. Participants suffering from delayed sleep phase disorder took either 0.5 milligrams of melatonin or a placebo for at least five consecutive nights a week. In terms of improved sleep, the melatonin group had a higher success rate of 52.8% than the placebo group (24%). Still, both groups experienced side effects such as dizziness and daytime sleepiness.
Another longer-term study suggests that the efficacy of melatonin as a sleep aid eventually peters out. The researchers found that a 3-milligram dose of melatonin improved sleep quality and duration within three months. After six months, the salivary levels of melatonin in the melatonin group were higher than that of the placebo group. At the end of 12 months though, the melatonin group didn’t differ much from the placebo group in terms of sleep improvement. On the bright side, melatonin supplementation did not cause any side effects.
The Potential Downsides of Melatonin Supplementation
Before you assume the answer to “can you take melatonin every night?” is a yes, researchers prompt us to be more cautious.
Per a 2016 review, the “long-term safety of melatonin in children and adolescents, however, requires further investigation.” At the moment, there’s also no clear verdict on whether melatonin supplements are 100% safe for those that are pregnant or breastfeeding.
Do Your Homework Before You Take Melatonin
Part of the reason why some wonder if it’s bad to take melatonin every night boils down to the fact that these sleep aids are dietary supplements. For the record, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates melatonin supplements differently than food and drugs.
A groundbreaking 2017 study analyzed 30 melatonin supplements sold on the market. More than 71% of the supplements showed huge discrepancies in melatonin content. In fact, the supplement with the greatest inconsistency (478% more melatonin than what’s stated on the product label) was a chewable tablet, a dietary supplement that your kid may find appealing. Also, some of the supplements contain unreported amounts of serotonin, which can cause unwanted side effects at low concentrations.
The bottom line is to do your research carefully and check that the brand you’re buying from is trustworthy. Aside from scrutinizing the product label, it’s good practice to look out for third-party verifications such as:
- The USP Verified seal by the United States Pharmacopeial Convention
- 3rd Party GMP Certification such as NSF
If these verifications aren’t available on the product packaging, you can always contact the brand through its customer hotline or email address to ask for proof.
Last but not least, while melatonin supplements are often sold over-the-counter, not everyone is suited for them. If you aren’t sure whether a melatonin supplement will do your health more harm than good, it’s best to speak with a licensed healthcare provider first.
Use Melatonin Wisely for Best Results
Though you’ve learned the pros and cons of melatonin supplementation, there isn’t a clear-cut answer to “is it bad to take melatonin every night?” However, it’s best to only use it in the short-term at low doses to minimize its side effects. Also, certain groups of individuals, such as kids and pregnant women, are recommended not to take these sleep aids without the green light from their doctor.
The good news is that there are other ways to boost your sleep hygiene. Think exercise, meditation, and a balanced diet (with the help of high-quality supplements, if necessary). Because when you feel great on the whole, it’s easier to get the ZZZs you need at night.
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