What You Need to Know about Melatonin
Chances are you know someone who takes melatonin to go to sleep. For some it works well, while others say they’ve had no success with it. If you’re wondering if melatonin might be right for you, read on.
We’ve gathered the facts and laid them out—even provided links to the science, so you can get to know as much or as little about melatonin as you like.
Fast Facts about Melatonin
- Melatonin is a hormone produced naturally in the body.
- Its main job is to maintain circadian rhythms (the body’s day/night clock).
- Melatonin supplements are generally produced in a lab.
- Side effects of melatonin supplements are uncommon, but they can interact with other drugs.
- According to The Mayo Clinic, with a melatonin supplement, you are not likely to become dependent, have diminished response with continual use, or experience hangover effects.
- For the most part, melatonin supplements are used for sleep issues.
- Natural melatonin production decreases with age.
What Does Melatonin Do?
Known as the sleep “hormone,” melatonin at high levels helps you fall asleep. It is not a sleeping pill; it reminds your body when it is time to sleep, which triggers relaxation.
Melatonin is produced in the brain in the pineal gland, although it is also found in the GI tract, the eyes and bone. In the evening, the pineal gland releases melatonin to prepare for sleep and maintain sleep throughout the night. During the day, it suppresses the melatonin hormone.
A recent article in Forbes reported on a study proving that even dim light can suppress melatonin levels by half.
Apart from its sleep mojo, it's also considered “a free radical scavenger and broad-spectrum antioxidant” and melatonin has been studied for its antioxidant effects.
Additionally, melatonin might provide other benefits. See the final section of this article for these benefits and what science says about them so far. Read more about other ways to help with insomnia and sleep in this insightful article.
What is a Melatonin Supplement Used for?
Primarily, medical melatonin is used for poor sleep in the following instances:
- Circadian rhythm sleep disorders in the blind
- Delayed sleep phase
- Jet lag
- Shift work disorder
- Sleep-wake cycle disturbances
Sleep Disorders and Melatonin
Research results show that melatonin taken before bedtime can help you fall asleep but is it possible to have melatonin overdose?
In 1994, the effects of low-dose melatonin vs. placebo were examined in 20 healthy males. In every instance of the participant receiving melatonin, sleep duration was increased and sleep on-set latency was decreased.A 2017 scientific review of sleep disorders and melatonin found that:
- Clinical trials prove that melatonin can treat insomnia, including primary insomnia, insomnia in children with autism, depressed adolescents, women with premenstrual dysphoric disorder, and patients taking beta-blockers.
- Melatonin can reduce complications of sleep-related breathing disorders (SBDs).
- Melatonin supplements can help regulate hypersomnolence, e.g., narcolepsy.
- Melatonin can help reregulate circadian rhythms in circadian rhythm sleep-wake disorder (CRSWD).
- For treatment of parasomnias, such as REM sleep behavior disorder (RBD), which is associated with dreams and violent or potentially injurious behaviors during REM sleep.
This review also compares the side effects of traditional medications like benzodiazepines, antidepressants, anxiolytics, etc., with the less harmful and uncommon side effects of melatonin. These traditional medications have a potential for dependence and addiction, and can gradually impair cognition—risks that are not associated with melatonin.
Can You Overdose On Melatonin
A 2016 safety study of melatonin in humans determined that even in extreme doses, short-term use of melatonin was safe. Only mild adverse effects, such as dizziness, headache, nausea, and sleepiness, have been reported.
Long-term melatonin treatment also reported only mild adverse effects.
No studies have indicated any serious adverse effects.
Long-term safety in children and adolescents, however, requires further investigation.
Melatonin is non-toxic and non-addictive.
Possible Drug Interactions with Melatonin and Alcohol
The following possible drug interactions are from The Mayo Clinic’s melatonin page:
- Anticoagulants and antiplatelet drugs, herbs and supplements. These reduce blood clotting. Combining use of melatonin with them might increase the risk of bleeding.
- Anticonvulsants. Melatonin might inhibit the effects of anticonvulsants in neurologically disabled children.
- Blood pressure drugs. Melatonin might affect blood pressure in people taking these medications.
- CNS depressants. Melatonin combined with these medications might have an extra sedative effect.
- Diabetes medications. Melatonin could affect sugar levels. Use with caution.
- Contraceptive drugs. Use of contraceptive drugs with melatonin might increase the effects and possible side effects of melatonin.
- Cytochrome P450 1A2 (CYP1A2) and cytochrome P450 2C19 (CPY2C19) substrates. Use melatonin cautiously if you take drugs such as diazepam (Valium) and others that are affected by these enzymes.
- Fluvoxamine (Luvox). This SSRI can increase melatonin levels, causing unwanted excessive drowsiness.
- Immunosuppressants. Melatonin can stimulate immune function and interfere with immunosuppressive therapy.
- Seizure threshold lowering drugs. Taking melatonin with these drugs could increase the risk of seizures.
- Alcohol and Melatonin - Take with caution and do not operate any moving vehicles or heavy machine while under the influence. Make sure to consult your doctor if you choose to mix.
Other Benefits of Taking Melatonin
It could be good for your eyes. The powerful antioxidant benefits of melatonin could support eye health and help lower the risk of disease in your peepers.
A 2005 study of melatonin effects on age-related macular degeneration (AMD) showed protection of the retina and delayed macular degeneration in patients that took melatonin (3 mg) daily.
It might accelerate ulcer and heartburn recovery. In 2002, researchers found in preclinical trials that melatonin could prevent gastric ulceration and increase the efficacy of some medicines in reducing gastric damage.
A 2011 study found similar results in a clinical trial composed of people with chronic gastric ulcers.
This 2011 study, involving 61 adult participants, proved that 3 mg of melatonin before bed reduced the effects of tinnitus and improved sleep.