Anyone with insomnia can understand the frustration of lying in bed staring blankly at the ceiling and waiting for sleep to come (and it does, eventually, just before the alarm goes off). So it comes as no surprise that most of us have turned to some form of sleep supplement to catch up on the zzz.
In the past decade or so, the use of melatonin for sleep has increased dramatically. Research published in JAMA in February 2022 found that by 2018, Americans’ consumption of melatonin had nearly doubled compared to 10 years earlier. This upward trend in melatonin use raises questions about its effectiveness, safety and health implications.
So how much melatonin is too much, and how often is too often?
So What Is Melatonin?
Melatonin, is a hormone produced by the pineal gland of the brain, and it helps regulate our circadian rhythm and sleep. It basically synchronises our sleep-wake cycle. Its production increases at night to promote sleep and decreases in the presence of light. By creating an association between changes in light and feelings of sleepiness, melatonin helps our bodies understand when it’s time to go to bed and when it’s time to wake up.
Beyond sleep, melatonin is also beneficial for other bodily functions including regulating our immune system, blood pressure, and cortisol levels.
What Do Melatonin supplements Do?
While we produce melatonin ourselves, an additional melatonin boost can help promote sleep onset and reset the sleep-wake cycle. For example, traveling to a different time zone, adjusting to a night shift at work, or struggling with insomnia are all common reasons for popping a melatonin.
So How Much Melatonin Can I Safely Take?
Our bodies produce very small amounts of melatonin—around the equivalent of 0.3 milligrams—which can vary by age. This is in contrast to some melatonin supplements available over-the-counter, which can come in very high doses of up to 10 milligrams, so it’s important to use melatonin with the guidance of your physician, or, you may inadvertently worsen your sleep.
Typical melatonin doses for an adult is anywhere from 1 milligrams to 6 milligrams.
Can I Take Melatonin Every Night?
There is no need to take melatonin supplements every night, it’s not a multi-vitamin. Try not to take melatonin beyond two to three months, and gradually reduce your dose so it does not impact your sleep.
While melatonin supplements aren’t physically addictive, they can become “psychologically addictive,” making you believe you cannot fall asleep without it.
While melatonin use is safe, according to studies, but there are some side effects to bear in mind. Some side effects like nightmares, drowsiness, bedwetting, headaches, dizziness, and nausea have been reported. In some instances, the fatigue from melatonin can make people feel depressed the next day.
There are also some reports of potential drug interactions with anticoagulants, anticonvulsants, and other blood pressure medications, so be sure to discuss your melatonin use with a doctor.
Picking The Right Melatonin Supplement
In addition to consulting with your doctor before starting a melatonin supplement, be sure to purchase your melatonin from a trustworthy brand that follow quality measures. However, it’s important to keep in mind that melatonin is not FDA-regulated, and therefore is marketed as a dietary supplement, and even if the label says ‘natural,’ ‘organic,’ or ‘purified,’ it may still contain impurities.
Look for products with certifications from organizations like U.S. Pharmacopeia (USP), or NSF International and avoid taking melatonin with other supplements, which can increase toxicity.