Melatonin is a natural hormone that is produced by the body at night. It is controlled by the amount of light that is allowed into the eye. It helps the body wind down and get ready for bed. Sometimes, when the body does not produce enough melatonin, there are exogenous options, or melatonin pills that can help those who are having trouble falling asleep. However, those supplements come with some potential problems of which you need to be aware. Continue reading to find out some things about melatonin that should give you pause before depending heavily on that supplement for good sleep.
Assuming natural = safe
Melatonin is a hormone that is produced by the pineal gland in the brain. Whenever your retina, a group of cells in the back of your eye, sense that there is very little light (indicating nighttime) your brain will begin secreting melatonin. This hormone signals to your brain that it's time to go to sleep.
Sometimes, this may be defective, or the amount of melatonin released is not enough to override the other factors that may be keeping you awake (ie stress, environmental disturbances, sleep disorders, etc.). Therefore, some will turn towards the supplement version of melatonin with an overreliance on the fact that because it is natural, then it's presumed safe.
Melatonin is a natural hormone, however, in its exogenous form, it does not mean that it is safe for overconsumption. Your body uses a negative feedback system to control the amount of melatonin released at one time. This means that when melatonin is produced and exerts its effects on the rest of your body, it will provide a negative feedback to your brain to stop producing melatonin.
When you take it exogenously, this feedback doesn't happen which means melatonin could overreact in your body. Make sure to read the label of the dosing and try to adhere to recommended amounts.
It's not a permanent solution for sleep
Melatonin is not a cure all for a lack of sleep. Better sleep habits and addressing underlying factors for poor sleep is what will increase your sleep in the long run. Melatonin is designed to be a short-term sleep-aid.
Certain populations may benefit from more frequent doses such as shift workers with irregular schedules, jet lag, and those with intermittent insomnia. However, for consistent and persistent sleep troubles, melatonin is not the permanent solution.
You should talk with your health provider before taking melatonin to decide if it's really necessary and its safety profile. If there are underlying issues that are keeping you from sleeping, melatonin may mask them, leading to much worse issues.
It's not regulated
Prescription drugs are regulated by the FDA and must go through many trials before they can be brought to market. Supplements, however, are not as regulated, meaning their labels don't have to be as exact as pharmaceuticals. The FDA also doesn't check to see how efficacious the supplement is or its safe dosing requirements.
A study in 2017 found that melatonin supplements and the amount of melatonin they contained varied widely from what was on the label. Also, serotonin was detected in 26% of the samples analyzed. This means if you're taking other medications, such as Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) then this could interfere and lead to serotonin serum sickness.
Before picking up a new supplement, do some research on any complains or weird side effects other users have had from that brand. And most importantly, talk with your physician about which supplements they recommend.
It can lead to uncomfortable side effects
Melatonin may help you sleep better, however, there are so many side effects that accompany it. Nausea, dizziness, headache and drowsiness are all reported side effects. Therefore, it's important that after you take melatonin, you don't operate heavy machinery or drive. It's best to be in a safe location where you can fall asleep or one that doesn't require your alert attention.
The following morning, it is possible that you will still feel drowsy or sleepy, so you may want to reconsider taking melatonin if you have to be up early or having something that requires your full attention.
Dangerous interactions are possible
Melatonin can have severe drug-drug interactions. This means that if you are taking a prescription medication, this supplement could negatively interfere with that. This is why it's so important to talk with your doctor who is familiar with your medications. If they are aware of the drugs that you are taking, then they can provide you some recommendations on if melatonin is safe, and if so, how much and what brand.
It's best to steer clear of melatonin if you have chronic insomnia or a severe sleep disorder like restless legs syndrome (RLS). Chronic insomnia can be treated more with lifestyle remedies and cognitive behavioral therapy as melatonin is not safe enough, per the lack of evidence, for long-term use.
RLS is a disorder characterized by tingly feelings all over your legs and arms that can only be relieved by moving your legs. If you have been diagnosed with RLS, melatonin can increase your symptoms because it lowers the amount of dopamine in the blood.
Dementia is another diagnosis in which you should steer clear of melatonin. The progressive deterioration is associated with insomnia, but melatonin can do more harm than good. It can increase the risk of falls and may result in daytime drowsiness.
It's also not safe to consume melatonin if you have been drinking alcohol, are pregnant, or breastfeeding.
Alternatives to melatonin
Sleep is very important, so if you are having trouble getting adequate sleep, then it's imperative that you find great alternatives other than a reliance on melatonin.
One way to improve your sleep is to improve your sleep hygiene. This consists of your sleep routine, sleep environment and other behaviors that can negatively influence your ability to get a good night's rest (too much caffeine, late night eating or working out, alcohol, etc.).
If you continue to have trouble sleeping, please click the orange button below to talk with a sleep health professional from our facility!