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Should I Take Melatonin for Sleep? An Expert Has Answers
  • Posted March 9, 2023

Should I Take Melatonin for Sleep? An Expert Has Answers

There's nothing worse than having trouble falling asleep or staying asleep. Watching the time go from minutes to hours only stresses you out and decreases the chance of a good night's rest.

Is it time to try melatonin supplements, a popular sleep aid?

Plenty of folks might want to know: In a recent study from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 14.5% of American adults said they struggled to fall asleep while nearly 18% had trouble staying asleep during the 30 days before the study.

The human body secretes melatonin on its own to help with sleep. But when might you need more than your body produces?

First, what is melatonin?

"Melatonin is a natural hormone that's mainly produced in your pineal gland,"according to the Cleveland Clinic. Located in the brain, this gland responds to daylight and darkness by secreting melatonin. It secretes more melatonin at night and less during the day.

"When it gets dark in the evening, melatonin starts being secreted. It peaks around 3 o'clock in the morning and then it starts decreasing, and by 7 a.m. it's suppressed,"explained Dr. Sanjeev Kothare, co-director of the Pediatric Sleep Program at Cohen Children's Medical Center in New Hyde Park, N.Y.

But when the melatonin you produce doesn't seem to be doing the job, you want relief.

That's when melatonin supplements and natural sources of melatonin from the food you eat can be worth considering.

Is melatonin safe to take?

Melatonin supplements are manufactured and sold as dietary supplements. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration regulates dietary supplements under a different set of rules than prescription drugs and over-the-counter medications.

That means the purity and strength of melatonin supplements are unreliable, Kothare said.

With this in mind, the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) says only short-term use of melatonin supplements is safe.

And the American Academy of Sleep Medicine issued a health advisory in 2022 warning parents to be careful about giving melatonin supplements to their children.

To reduce the risks, they recommend parents keep all supplements out of their child's reach and consult a pediatrician before giving children melatonin.

How much melatonin should you take?

Kothare suggests taking 1 to 3 milligrams (mg) about an hour before you are ready to sleep.

He also recommends turning down the lights and staying off electronics and away from the TV during this time because the benefits of melatonin can be "suppressed because of the bright light"from electronic devices.

Does melatonin have side effects?

The side effects of melatonin are mild and can include headaches, dizziness, nausea and daytime drowsiness, according to the NCCIH.

Nightmares have also been linked to melatonin use, Kothare added.

Another consideration is the interactions melatonin can have with certain types of prescription medications, according to the Mayo Clinic. These include:

  • Medicine that slows blood clotting
  • Medicine that prevents seizures
  • Birth control medicine
  • High blood pressure medicine
  • Diabetes medicine
  • Medicine that suppresses the immune system
  • Medicine that is broken down by the liver

Is it OK to take melatonin every night?

While it's safe to take melatonin on a short-term basis, the NCCIH says there's not enough evidence to recommend using it nightly over the long term.

Melatonin is not known to be addictive, but taking it every night can lead to psychological dependency. What this means is, you believe you need it every night to sleep, which is unhealthy.

Can you overdose on melatonin?

Melatonin overdose in adults is rare. But, adults who have taken too much melatonin reported symptoms of vomiting, trouble breathing, changes in blood pressure and disorientation.

Melatonin poisoning in children is also a concern. A recent CDC study reported a 530% increase in unintentional pediatric melatonin ingestions.

Kothare explained that the pandemic prompted an increase in adult use of melatonin. Careless storage of the supplement resulted in children getting their hands on it and accidentally taking "mega doses."

Food sources of melatonin

If using melatonin supplements gives you pause, you can also get extra melatonin from eating certain foods.

Kothare noted there's a reason why your grandmother told you to drink a warm glass of milk before bed. "It's because there's tryptophan in milk, and tryptophan converts to melatonin in the body," he explained.

The National Center for Biotechnology Information lists several other dietary sources of melatonin:

  • eggs and fish
  • tart cherries and grapes
  • tomatoes and peppers
  • mushrooms
  • germinated soybean seeds
  • pistachios
  • pigmented rice with black rice having the highest concentration

Eating these foods before bedtime can boost natural melatonin levels in the body, Kothare noted.

SOURCE: Sanjeev Kothare, MD, director, Pediatric Sleep Program, Cohen Children's Medical Center, New Hyde Park, N.Y.

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