Melatonin is one of the most popular sleep aids in the world. If you have trouble sleeping, it’s probably the first remedy that comes to mind. However, you may have heard once or twice that it causes weird and vivid dreams. Perhaps you’ve experienced some yourself. But are melatonin and dreams really related? Is it the reason for all of those weird dreams? Should you avoid taking it because of potential nightmares? Let’s find out. In this article, we’ll cover everything you need to know about potential nightmares and vivid dreams.
What is melatonin?
Melatonin is a hormone that is produced in the pineal gland of the brain. It’s what makes you tired at night and helps you fall asleep. Production increases in the evening, stays high throughout the night, and decreases in the morning. However, melatonin production can often become imbalanced. This may be due to jet lag, insomnia, stress, or even looking at bright screens at night. To improve sleep quality, many people turn to supplements, which include a synthetic version of the same hormone that our bodies produce.
The supplements are excellent at improving sleep quality and rebalancing the circadian rhythm (sleep-wake cycle). This meta-analysis of studies by Ferracioli-Oda et. al found that 19 different studies confirmed that melatonin helped people fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer. Of course, just like with any other medication, melatonin does have some side effects. Some people report experiencing vivid and weird dreams while taking it. Is there any truth to this statement? Is it possible that melatonin and dreams are interrelated? Let’s find out.
Does melatonin cause vivid dreams?
So can melatonin cause weird and vivid dreams? Well, yes, but let me explain. If you have trouble sleeping, then you likely don’t get enough REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. This is the stage of sleep in which most of our dreams occur. It is also the stage in which our brains process our feelings and memories, which helps us feel alert and focused during the day.
If you have trouble sleeping and are often disoriented, drowsy, and find it difficult to focus during the day, this is likely due to a lack of REM sleep. This study by Kunz et. al found that taking melatonin supplements increased the amount of REM sleep that you get.
Since REM sleep is when we experience most of our dreams, taking melatonin that increases REM will naturally increase the amount of vivid dreams you have. Since your body isn’t used to getting so much REM, you may experience especially high levels of these weird and vivid dreams. However, with time, as your body’s circadian rhythm once again becomes balanced and you’re used to the REM sleep, the intensity of these dreams should subside.
Melatonin and hallucinations
Interestingly, although melatonin can lead to more vivid and crazy dreams, it can also act as a remedy for nightly hallucinations. This study by Lysenko and Bhat proves it. The researchers observed three patients who were seeing scary hallucinations at night. The patients were all given 5mg of supplements, which instantly eliminated the hallucinations.
Does melatonin cause nightmares?
As for nightmares and melatonin, the evidence isn’t clear enough yet. This study by Shah and Kablinger describes the experiences of a patient suffering from insomnia who took ramelteon, which is a supplement that works very similarly to melatonin supplements. The patient had very graphic nightmares once he started taking the supplement and they subsided as soon as he stopped taking it. However, this is just an isolated case and the precise causes of this patient’s nightmares are unclear. We would need more research on the nightmares and vivid dreams to conclude anything for certain.
Since melatonin increases the amount of REM sleep you get and thus the amount of dreams you have, there’s always the possibility that those dreams will be nightmares. After all, each of us has nightmares every once in a while. However, there just isn’t enough research to suggest a definitive link between melatonin and nightmares.
What are some other possible melatonin side effects?
In addition to vivid dreams, you may also experience a few other minor side effects from melatonin. However, unlike other sleeping pills, you can’t actually overdose on melatonin to the point of serious illness or death. If you overdose on melatonin, you may experience some minor side effects, such as:
- Stomach cramps
- Low blood pressure
- Shaky hands
How to avoid vivid dreams and other side effects from melatonin?
Just because melatonin can potentially cause side effects doesn’t mean you should avoid taking it. After all, pretty much all supplements and medications have certain side effects, especially if not taken properly.
To avoid the side effects and vivid dreams that melatonin may cause, you should be very careful when choosing your melatonin dosage. Adults should start with just 1-2 mg of supplement and gradually go up to 5-10mg until you start noticing results. As for children, a starting dosage of melatonin should be 0.5-1mg and you shouldn’t go over 3-6mg.
Plus, even if you do experience vivid dreams once you start taking melatonin, they should wear off with time as your body adjusts and gets used to the increased amount of REM sleep.
If you do decide to take melatonin to improve your sleep quality, don’t forget to take up some additional habits to improve your sleep quality. These include going to bed at the same time every night, avoiding heavy meals and bright screens before bed, and reducing napping throughout the day. By combining these habits with melatonin supplements, you’ll be on your way to getting the highest quality sleep possible!