Melatonin supplements are a widely popular sleep aid. While the melatonin is produced in a lab, it is similar to the melatonin naturally produced by the body and, therefore, can effectively increase melatonin levels and regulate the sleep-wake cycle.
Article at a Glance
- As a supplement, melatonin has not been thoroughly studied and there are no established guidelines for proper dosage.
- Available evidence has shown that short-term use of melatonin may help improve sleep, but its effects on health if used for a prolonged period are not yet known.
- All the possible side effects and interactions of melatonin still require thorough research so caution must be exercised when taking melatonin and other medications.
- In general, melatonin has been found to be relatively safe and effective for people with mild to moderate sleep issues.
Melatonin supplements are specifically formulated as a sleep aid. It works by increasing melatonin levels in the body, which is necessary to induce sleep and to manage the natural sleep cycle. The supplement has been found effective in people with mild to moderate sleep problems associated with decreased melatonin levels and disrupted circadian rhythms.
Studies have found that melatonin may also offer other benefits, such as supporting immune function; managing blood pressure and cortisol levels; offering antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties; improving eye health; protecting the skin, reducing symptoms of seasonal depression; and providing relief from acid reflux.
The health effects of long-term melatonin use are still unknown, but available evidence indicates that taking melatonin is relatively safe.
Melatonin vs. Serotonin: What’s the Difference?
In simple terms, melatonin helps with sleep, whereas serotonin aids in wakefulness. While operating on opposite ends of the sleep-wake cycle, these chemicals complement each other so that they can each produce their intended results. Melatonin levels have to be low in order to trigger wakefulness when the day begins, and increased serotonin levels during the day contribute to the buildup of sleep pressure which reinforce the body’s natural winding down pattern as the day ends.
Alcohol is a go-to sleep inducer for many people who suffer from insomnia. But you must not drink alcohol together with a melatonin supplement. How melatonin interacts with alcohol in the body is not yet known, but both melatonin and alcohol are sedatives and taking them together could result in intensified effects that could prove dangerous.
The CDC reported that approximately 95,000 deaths and 2.8 million years of potential life lost (YPLL) between 2011 and 2015 were linked to excessive alcohol use. Mixing melatonin with alcohol could increase the potential but serious risks of alcohol use.
Benadryl is an antihistamine, which means it’s formulated to treat allergic reactions. But one of its side effects is drowsiness, so many people also take this medicine as a sleep aid. Using medication for something other than its intended use is called “off-label” use and should only be done under a doctor’s supervision.
There are no known adverse interactions between melatonin and benadryl, but taking them together could cause intense sleepiness, deeper sleep, and even lethargy. Performing everyday activities may become difficult; driving, walking on the street, climbing stairs, and other similar activities may be as dangerous as when you’re under alcohol intoxication.
Tylenol and melatonin have no known major interactions when taken together. If you’re in pain and whether or not it’s your pain that’s causing your sleepless nights, it’s generally safe to take melatonin together with Tylenol — a common pain medication. However, doctor’s advise against taking one or both regularly for more than a few weeks. If your chronic pain and/or insomnia persists, see a doctor right away.
Can You Take Melatonin While Pregnant?
As a naturally occurring substance in the body, melatonin may play some key roles in the timing of birth and in fetal development. It’s common among pregnant women, however, to experience sleeping difficulties, especially during their third trimester. The melatonin in supplements is similar to that produced by the pineal gland in the brain, but doctors advise against taking melatonin supplements while pregnant as studies on the safety and long-term effects of lab-produced melatonin on the health of both the fetus and mother are still severely lacking.
Pregnant women should always consult their OB-GYNE before using any new supplements.
Is It Safe to Vape Melatonin?
The benefits of vaping are still widely debated, and of particular concern are the cases of serious lung damage linked with certain vaping liquid ingredients. Vaping melatonin offers a more direct route for absorption in the bloodstream, so that the effects are immediate and more potent — which means one would need a lower dose to help them fall asleep.
Clinical studies involving melatonin vapes have yet to be done, but anecdotal evidence suggests that vaping melatonin works well, and may work even better than oral supplements. However, it’s important to practice caution when choosing a melatonin vape product and to only buy one from a reputable manufacturer and seller. One must also always start with the lowest recommended dose and then adjust the dosage appropriately to get the desired results.
Is Melatonin Safe for Kids?
The National Center for Complementary and Integrated Health (NCCIH) reports that melatonin appears “to be safe for most children for short-term use.” Several studies have found that melatonin may help children with autism spectrum disorder, ADHD, and other developmental disorders who often have sleep issues.
Experts caution, however, that it is not yet known if melatonin, which is a hormone, may affect a child’s development if used long-term. Parents should always consult their child’s doctor before giving their children melatonin supplements or any other sleep aid.
Can You Overdose on Melatonin?
As with all supplements, there are no established guidelines on melatonin dosage. The general recommendations are based on a person’s age, weight, and overall health: 1mg-10mg daily for adults and 0.5mg-6mg daily for children.
There is no known lethal dose of melatonin, but taking more than the recommended dosage may cause side effects, including drowsiness, lethargy, irritability, disorientation, headache, stomach cramps, anxiety, nausea, and lowered blood pressure. These side effects are temporary, but melatonin use must be discontinued if any adverse health effects occur.
Is Melatonin Addictive?
Unlike other sleep aids, melatonin does not seem to cause addiction or dependence. According to initial studies, the body does not seem to develop a tolerance for the substance, which means users will not need to take higher doses to get the desired effects. In fact, once a person determines the correct dose to get better sleep, this dose will work each and every time even after months of use.
How Long Does Melatonin Last in Your System?
This depends on how fast your body metabolizes melatonin. But in general, a small dose of regular melatonin may last up to 4 hours before it is completely cleared out of your system, while a larger dose (10 mg, for example) of extended-release melatonin can last up to 10 hours.
Based on available evidence from clinical studies and anecdotal reports, the side effects of melatonin are often mild, temporary, and occur infrequently. Side effects may result from taking more than the recommended dosage, taking melatonin at the wrong time, or mixing melatonin with other medications or other substances, such as alcohol. The effects of long-term melatonin use, however, are not yet known.
Sleepiness, nausea, headache, and dizziness are the most common side effects, both in adults and children. Adverse interactions may occur with alcohol, caffeine, certain antibiotics, blood pressure medication, antidepressants, anti-seizure medications, and blood thinners.
Melatonin and Dreams: Can Melatonin Cause Crazy Dreams?
Melatonin may increase the length and depth of REM sleep, which is when dreams often occur. If your body is not used to this level of REM sleep, then you may experience more vivid dreams. But as your circadian rhythm becomes normalized with the help of the supplement, so does your REM sleep and the intensity of your dreams should eventually subside.
Melatonin For Managing Diseases
Sleep problems are common in children with autistic spectrum disorder (ASD) and often impact a child’s social interactions, academic performance, and day-to-day activities, as well as cause stress and sleep disruptions for their parents.
At least 20 clinical studies have reported sleep improvements in children with ASD and sleep problems after being given melatonin. Overall, melatonin supplementation resulted in quicker sleep onset, longer sleep duration, and less nighttime awakenings.
People with dementia often suffer from insomnia, nighttime restlessness, nightmares, and sundowning, which is characterized by worsening of symptoms in the evening.
Currently, studies on the benefits of melatonin for those with dementia have shown mixed results. Some studies have found that melatonin may help ease sundowning symptoms and help with insomnia; one study has shown that melatonin may only be beneficial during the early stages of dementia; but at least one review has revealed that melatonin may cause mood issues in some individuals.
It’s also important to note that the majority of research involved patients with Alzheimer’s and mild cognitive impairment, so it is not yet known how melatonin may affect those with other forms of dementia. Always seek a doctor’s advice before giving new medication to a patient with dementia.
Kids with ADHD
Sleep disorders are common in about 50%-95% of children with ADHD and other developmental disorders. Behavioral problems are often the main cause of sleep problems in children with ADHD, however, so having a consistent bedtime routine may be the only solution needed. At the same time, several studies have found that melatonin may also help regulate a child’s circadian rhythms so they can get better sleep; when combined with healthy sleep habits, the supplement may lead to even better results.
While the 2019 coronavirus is a new disease, extensive research has been done worldwide since the pandemic began in an attempt to mitigate its effects and save lives. A few studies have found that some survivors of COVID-19 may develop PTSD and some individuals who had mild COVID-19 still experienced long-term COVID symptoms.
Preliminary research has found that melatonin may lead to better outcomes in some COVID patients, and researchers have attributed this effect to the anti-inflammatory properties of melatonin.
Those with mild COVID often experience difficulty sleeping, and melatonin may not only help them get better sleep but also boost their immune function so that they heal faster.
Using melatonin alongside other treatments has been showing promising results, but as COVID-19 can be fatal, it’s important to seek appropriate medical treatment when symptoms appear and don’t attempt to self-treat the virus at home without expert guidance.
How to Increase Melatonin Levels
Taking melatonin supplements has been shown to be a safe and effective way of increasing melatonin levels in the body to ease sleep problems. There are also natural ways to boost melatonin, including:
- Meditation and relaxation techniques, especially 20-30 minutes before bedtime.
- Aromatherapy with lavender oil, which has been observed to induce sleep by stimulating melatonin production
- Eating melatonin-rich foods a few hours before bedtime:
1. Fruits like tart cherries, pomegranates, and olives;
2. Vegetables like asparagus, corn, and cucumber;
3. Nuts and seeds like flax and walnut;
4. Whole grains like barley and oats;
5. Fatty fish
- Regular exercise
Avoiding certain habits can also ensure that your body’s melatonin production at night is not disrupted:
- Drinking caffeine after 2 pm
- Late-night eating, especially right before bedtime
- Spending time on the phone or computer before bedtime
Melatonin can be very helpful for some individuals who struggle to fall asleep and stay asleep. As with all medications and supplements, however, it may not work for everyone.
If it’s your first time taking melatonin, start with the lowest recommended dosage. Observe how your body reacts to it, and gradually adjust the dosage if necessary and until you get the desired result. Don’t go over the highest recommended dosage or the dosage that works for you to avoid unpleasant side effects.
If you do experience adverse effects, discontinue use until the effects go away and lower your intake if you want to try again.
If your insomnia persists, consult a doctor or sleep specialist.
Keep in mind that melatonin supplements are not regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), so choose a brand made by a reputable manufacturer to ensure quality and safety.