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Health and Fitness News

A Sleep Solution?

Melatonin may help you get to sleep, but is it safe to take every night?

There are few things more frustrating than elusive sleep. When it takes you hours to fall asleep or you wake multiple times in the night with trouble falling back to sleep, you try all the tricks you can think of to get a good night’s rest. Maybe you’ve limited late night screen time, taken hot baths, or cut back on caffeine with no luck—until you tried melatonin.

Now your feel like you’re sleeping better, but you have questions about the safety of melatonin and its long-term use. Read on to find out what you need to know about this natural sleep aid.

Melatonin is a sleep regulator, not a sleep initiator. - Michael Breus

What Is It?

The pineal gland in your brain produces melatonin, a hormone used by the body to regulate your sleep/wake cycles. When it gets dark or around 9 p.m., your body starts making melatonin to get you ready for sleep. Melatonin is not released unless you’re in dim light. With exposure to sunlight or artificial indoor lighting, your body slows its production of melatonin and you feel more awake.

Why Take a Supplement?

Studies show some people have trouble sleeping because they have low melatonin levels. What’s the answer to these low levels? For an increasing number of people, it’s to take a melatonin supplement in an effort to reset their body’s internal clock. Pill or liquid supplements that you buy in stores are not made of the natural melatonin hormone, but are synthetically made in a laboratory. Interestingly, melatonin is the only hormone available in over-the-counter form in the United States.

Melatonin supplements are most often used to treat insomnia, jet lag, and sleep problems in people who are autistic, blind, depressed, epileptic, or who do shift work. Melatonin has also been used to help treat the pain of endometriosis, anxiety prior to surgery, low blood platelet levels, and sunburn (when applied to the skin).

Does It Work?

Taking melatonin to help you sleep has only been shown to lessen the amount of time it initially takes you to fall asleep by 12 minutes or less. Tests show the supplement does not increase the amount of time you spend sleeping overall, though people think it improves their quality of sleep.

Is It Safe?

Since it’s sold as a supplement and not as a drug, melatonin is not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration. Therefore, the doses listed on the package may not be accurate.

A possible concern is how much melatonin you consume. The typical dose of 1 to 3 milligrams melatonin raises your melatonin levels to much greater levels than the amount your body normally produces.

At this time, current standards advise that melatonin is likely safe for adults when taken short-term and possibly safe when taken long-term. Supplements for children are possibly safe when given by mouth short-term and should only be given to children who have a medical reason for a sleep aid. Because research has only recently begun, health experts have concerns over the safety of melatonin use in children and more studies are needed. Currently, studies have not proven melatonin safe for pregnant or breastfeeding women.

Some people experience negative side effects from melatonin including headache, dizziness, irritability, nausea, depression, anxiety, or sleepiness during the day. And there are health risks associated with melatonin use. Depression may worsen, blood pressure may increase, and blood sugar may rise in people with diabetes. Melatonin may also interact with certain drugs, so be sure to talk to your doctor before taking any new supplements.