Common over-the-counter and prescription sleep medications come with the risk of addiction/dependence, usually as a result of the body’s increased tolerance and diminished response to the medicine after prolonged use. Melatonin, on the other hand, does not seem to have the same adverse effect on the body. The long-term benefits and side effects of melatonin are still largely unknown as studies are still ongoing and initial results still require further substantiation. But based on available evidence, the answer to the question, “Is melatonin addictive?” points to a theoretical “No.”
Substances can be habit-forming and lead to addiction or dependence. And it’s important to understand that there’s a difference between addiction and dependence.
One of the main concerns of scientists studying the long-term effects of melatonin is if one can get addicted to melatonin. Particularly for people who experience chronic sleep problems and use the supplement for a prolonged period to normalize their sleep pattern and experience better sleep, the question of whether or not melatonin is habit forming and addictive or can lead to dependence must be adequately addressed.
Article at a Glance
- The increasing popularity of melatonin is outpacing studies looking into its long-term effects on health, but available evidence indicates that melatonin does not seem to be addictive when used long-term.
- One particular study suggests, however, that easy access to melatonin and higher-than-necessary dosages may lead to dependence.
- Clinical studies have yet to conclusively determine the health effects of long-term and/or too much melatonin use.
Can You Become Addicted to Melatonin?
Melatonin is typically recommended as a sleep aid for people with circadian rhythm sleep disorders, which are characterized by difficulty sleeping concurrent with the environment, i.e., sleeping at night. Those who experience jet lag, shift workers, blind people, and children with autism spectrum disorder and other developmental disorders have been known to benefit from the supplement.
While melatonin supplements are considered “natural,” caution must still be practiced when taking them.
Melatonin has been found to be generally safe for short-term use. Unlike other sleep medications, long-term use of melatonin has not been found to cause increased tolerance or diminished body response — which often leads to increased intake frequency and/or dosage intake and addiction or dependence. In other words, you are not likely to need more and more of it in order to experience its effects.
One meta-analysis, in particular, has found that “The effects of melatonin on sleep are modest but do not appear to dissipate with continued melatonin use.” The observed effects revealed in the study include decreased sleep onset latency (or the time it takes to fall asleep), increased total sleep time, and improved overall sleep quality.
However, another study points out that “Dependency can arise not from consuming melatonin supplements itself, but from the side-effects of melatonin supplements that can be habit-forming.” The difficulty in calculating “the necessary dosage according to each body type” and in “self-changing the dosage increments throughout time as the user’s body becomes familiar with the supplement” may have a significant impact on the body’s response to the dosage. When one starts with a higher dose than is appropriate for their body weight, for example, and they experience the full effects of melatonin, they may become dependent on the supplement in order to continue experiencing these effects.
It’s important to note that dependency is characterized by symptoms of tolerance and withdrawal, whereas addiction is characterized by changes in behavior and the brain’s biochemistry. While the aforementioned study cautions against underestimating the risk of melatonin dependence, it should also be noted that other findings have revealed that melatonin does not cause tolerance and withdrawal symptoms — which are the two signs of dependence.
Given that melatonin, like all other supplements, are not strictly regulated by the FDA, consumers must take the extra precaution of checking if a brand has undergone third-party lab testing to ensure the supplement’s quality and safety. And if you or a family member have a history of addiction, always consult your doctor before taking melatonin or other supplements.
Can There Be Side Effects?
As a sleep aid, the desired effect of melatonin — which is sleepiness — may also be one of its side effects, particularly when sleepiness occurs during daytime. When taken at the right dosage and time, the side effects of melatonin may be avoided or only mild, if they occur. The incidences of melatonin side effects are infrequent, based on reports. These side effects may include:
- Daytime sleepiness
- Stomach cramps
- Agitation or irritability
- Mild tremors
- Low blood pressure
- Temporary and mild symptoms of depression
Daytime sleepiness is usually the result of too much melatonin or not taking melatonin at the right time. There are also concerns regarding melatonin overuse and how it might disrupt the body’s circadian rhythm, but study findings are mostly conflicting and still inconclusive.
If you experience any worrisome side effects from melatonin, it’s best to discontinue use and talk with your doctor as soon as possible, especially if the side effects persist. If the side effects are mild and temporary, you may try taking a lower dose and closely observe how your body responds to it.
Melatonin may also interact with the following medications. Melatonin use should be under a doctor’s supervision if you’re also taking any of the following:
- Anticoagulants and antiplatelet drugs
- Anticonvulsants or epileptic drugs
- Diabetes medication
Is melatonin addictive? Available evidence says “No.” Because the body does not develop a tolerance for it, you will not need to increase intake over time to get the desired effect. So it’s important to determine the correct dosage and to stick to this dosage.
However, there’s some concern that the supplement may still be habit-forming, particularly when users completely rely on melatonin to help them sleep, without making any other changes to their lifestyle. While the side effects of short-term melatonin use are mostly mild and temporary, information regarding its health effects with long-term use is still severely lacking. It’s always best to seek a doctor’s advice before starting melatonin; and it’s highly recommended that it’s used only over a short period and occasionally.