Is Melatonin Bad for You?

Dr. Janna Larson's profile picture
Dr. Janna Larson, MD
Dec 19, 20213 min read
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Did you know that 70 million Americans struggle with sleep? Even the soundest sleepers have bad nights. No matter who you are or what your background is, you will have nights where your sleep is less than optimal.

So, if you're reading this, chances are you are hoping melatonin can 'fix' your sleep. You're not alone; the use of melatonin supplements among adults has doubled from 0.6% in 2007 to 1.3% in 2012, with 3.065 million adults reporting taking melatonin within the past month.

Thus, you may have questions such as: Does melatonin work? If so, how? Is it safe?

What Does Melatonin Do To Your Body?

Melatonin is a hormone that your body produces naturally, but you can also get synthetic melatonin as a supplement.

The pineal gland (in both humans and animals) secretes natural melatonin in response to darkness. Thus, it serves as a critical component of the body's 24-hour internal clock − the circadian rhythm − which regulates crucial functions such as sleep, temperature, and the basal metabolic rate.

In other words, the body produces melatonin as a signal for your body to prepare to sleep when the sun sets.

Melatonin supplementation seeks to emulate this effect with mixed results. Small-scale studies show melatonin works short-term for conditions such as jet lag and delayed sleep-wake phase disorder. However, the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and American College of Physicians does not recommend its use for chronic insomnia due to limited evidence and the risk of negative side effects.

Is It Safe To Take Melatonin Every Night?

In general, low doses of melatonin, between 1 and 10 mg, are safe with few side effects.

If you continue to take melatonin every night − without addressing the cause of your sleeping trouble − your body will adapt. Over time you’ll need to raise the dose of melatonin to achieve the same effect. This can lead to many side effects, ranging from mild to severe, such as:

  • Headaches
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Drowsiness and reduced alertness
  • Tremors
  • Anxiety and irritability
  • Abdominal cramps
  • Confusion
  • Low blood pressure
  • Depression

What’s more, melatonin supplements can interact with several classes of medications, such as:

  • Anticoagulants and anti-platelet drugs
  • Anticonvulsants
  • Contraceptive drugs
  • Diabetes medications
  • Immunosuppressants

Lastly, please avoid strenuous labor such as operating any heavy machinery within five hours of taking melatonin. It causes daytime drowsiness which can be dangerous.

Alternatives To Melatonin

People that struggle with insomnia tend to turn to supplements and medications first because they are unaware of safer, better options.

The first thing you should try when you are struggling with sleep is waking up at the same time every day. Having a fixed wake-up time will adjust your natural melatonin production and increase your chances of sleeping great the next night.

Your doctor may prescribe cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT-I). It is a proven, recommended, and safe sleep therapy for many forms of insomnia.

Treat Your Insomnia with CBT-I

The truth is that there is little evidence that melatonin will help you with insomnia.

That is why the American College of Physicians recommends CBT-I, which addresses the true cause of insomnia: thoughts, behaviors, and emotions.

The research backs up this recommendation with up to 80% of participants reporting remarkable improvements − more so than any other medication or supplement.

Not only does CBT-I improve overall sleep quality and duration, but the results are also long-lasting and free from side effects.

Sleep Without Melatonin

Dawn’s evidence-based CBT-I can help you sleep without relying on supplements and medications. Visit our website to learn more.

Dr. Janna Larson's profile picture
Dr. Janna Larson, MD

Dr. Janna Larson is a board certified Psychiatrist who received her M.D. at Louisiana State University in New Orleans. She received training in adult psychiatry at University of California San Diego where she served as Chief Resident in her final year of training.

It’s time to stop blaming the night monsters.

Let’s work together to transform your sleep for the better.