Is it safe to take melatonin every night?

Almost 30% of Americans say that insomnia has a negative impact on their daily life. It’s no wonder, then, that an increasing number of people are looking for melatonin supplements to help with their sleep issues. Marketed as “all natural” and sold in virtually every grocery store and drugstore, melatonin seems harmless almost because it’s so ubiquitous. But experts point to some concerns that may cause you to reconsider how you’re taking it, or whether you should.

What is melatonin?

Melatonin is a hormone made from a pea-sized gland above the brain that helps your body know when to sleep and when to wake up. Your body produces more melatonin at night because it’s darker and levels drop to their lowest in the morning when the sun comes out. You can also buy natural (made from animals) and synthetic melatonin in the form of gummies, drinks, and capsules, which cause drowsiness.

When taken correctly — occasionally, a few hours before bedtime — melatonin supplements can help you fall asleep. But a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) in February 2022 states that “the evidence to support the use of melatonin for sleep disorders is weak”. This doesn’t mean you have to stop taking it altogether, but it might help you adjust your expectations of what melatonin can do.

What’s Really In Your Melatonin Supplement?

Because melatonin is considered a dietary supplement and not a drug, it is not closely regulated by the Food and Drug Administration, and therefore purity and ingredients vary widely. “The lack of comprehensive testing and regulation of supplements by the FDA is a widespread problem,” says Dr. Ana Krieger, medical director of the Center for Sleep Medicine at Weill Cornell Medicine and NewYork-Presbyterian.. The JAMA One study found that the actual content of many melatonin products is up to 478% higher than what is stated on the label. A typical dose of melatonin is around 0.1 to 10 milligrams, which is already significantly higher than what your body produces, between 10 and 80 micrograms per night.

Although it’s extremely rare to overdose on melatonin, taking too much can cause headaches, vomiting, and even changes in blood pressure. Additionally, “not everyone is intolerant of melatonin because it can lead to daytime fatigue, depressed mood, and residual drowsiness the next day, especially at doses above 3 milligrams,” says Krieger.

Additionally, some supplements may contain other problematic ingredients. A 2017 study that tested 31 melatonin supplements sold in grocery stores and pharmacies found that 26% of them contained serotonin, another hormone that can have harmful effects even at low doses.

In other parts of the world, such as the UK and most of Europe, melatonin is treated as a medicine and would require a prescription.

To ensure the safety of your supplement, Krieger suggests choosing only those certified by NSF International (formerly the National Sanitation Foundation), a third-party agency that verifies the purity of ingredients in supplements.

Is it safe to take it every night?

Although melatonin is generally considered safe for short-term use, such as occasional insomnia or jet lag, many people take melatonin every night. This is worrying if you consider that your nightly dose may be many times more than you intended or what the label promised. Experts warn that little is known about the effects of long-term melatonin use. If you regularly have trouble sleeping, talk to your doctor for advice—they may suggest other options, like magnesium and l-theanine, Krieger says. “As with any other sleeping pill, long-term use of supplements should be guided by a specialist,” she says.

Address your sleep issues

A common misstep with melatonin is taking the supplement without addressing other sleep issues. “Relying solely on melatonin supplements without optimizing your nighttime habits is often not the best approach,” says Krieger.

The best use of supplements is to enhance the benefits of a good nighttime routine, she says. This means your bedroom is dark (which promotes melatonin production), quiet, and cool. You should also go to bed and wake up at around the same time, reduce exposure to bright light before bed, which suppresses the release of melatonin, and “[learn] how to reduce stressors and underlying anxieties that can affect sleep.

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