According to the National Institutes of Health, adult use of melatonin supplements more than doubled in the United States in 2012, with an estimated 3.1 million adults reporting that they had taken melatonin during the past 30 days. Even though your body produces “the sleep hormone” melatonin naturally, some people supplement with synthetic melatonin to help induce sleep. Due to the popularity of melatonin supplements, it is wise to look at what melatonin is and how this supplement may affect you.
What is Melatonin?
Melatonin helps you fall asleep at night. Your brain produces this natural hormone in your pineal gland in response to darkness. This is why it’s harder to get to sleep if you stay on your phone or watch TV late into the night. The light from these devices can prevent your brain from producing the melatonin you need.
Melatonin also establishes your internal clock, called your circadian rhythm. This means that melatonin is the hormone responsible for helping you feel sleepy and establishing the time you wake up naturally. Melatonin levels are at least 10 times higher at night than during the day.
Melatonin Production As You Age
Your body begins to secrete melatonin around 3 months old as you learn to sleep at night rather than during the day. Your melatonin levels at night increase more as you grow. Those levels peak around one to three years old. After that, your levels decline a bit and stay steady for most of your adult life.
At some point in your life, your levels begin to decline. When you are around 70 years of age, your melatonin levels at night will likely only be a quarter or less than what they were when you were a young adult. (1)
Using melatonin every day for a short period of time might not hurt you, but using it long-term could be detrimental to your health. Sometimes using a supplement daily may be indicated, but it is wise to check in with your doctor first. Many people use melatonin supplements for these issues when needed:
- Decrease jet lag and adjust to a new schedule
- Help with Daylight Savings Time shifts for sensitive insomnia-prone individuals
- Adjust sleep cycles for blind individuals
- Help shift-workers sleep when they need to for their changing schedule
- Occasional insomnia
A standard dosage is .5 to 1 mg taken 30 minutes before you’d like to sleep. Melatonin supplements on the market in the US include versions up to 10 mg per dose, but side effects are more common at higher doses.
Melatonin Supplement Ingredient Concerns
Retail US melatonin supplements are synthetic melatonin that mimics the way natural melatonin works in your body. However, there is no testing standard for melatonin supplements to standardize the ingredients, so you can’t know what products you may purchase contain. You can’t trust that what the label says is in the product.
A 2017 study tested 31 different melatonin supplements bought from grocery stores in Canada. The “amount of melatonin in most of the samples didn’t match the amount listed on the label. Also, 26% of the supplements contained serotonin, a hormone that can have harmful effects even at relatively low levels.” (2)
Melatonin Side Effects
Side effects at a typical dosage can be minimal but include:
- Vivid dreams
- Daytime drowsiness
- Depressed mood
- Feeling irritable
- Stomach pain
- Confusion or disorientation
If you take a larger dose of melatonin, you could experience drowsiness, abnormally low blood pressure, or effects on your reproductive system. (2)
Health and Melatonin Use
According to Drugs.com, it is not a good idea to use melatonin without discussing with your doctor first if you have the following health issues:
- High or low blood pressure
- Bleeding or blood clotting disorders such as hemophilia
- Epilepsy or other seizure disorder
- An autoimmune condition
- If you take a blood thinner like warfarin
- If you are using any medicine to prevent organ transplant rejection
- When pregnant because this medication could harm an unborn baby
- If you use other sedatives or tranquilizers
Be Careful with Self-Prescribing
If you have underlying sleep disorders that need treatment, melatonin could be dangerous. For example, if you suffer from sleep apnea but take melatonin to sleep each night, you may not realize why you wake up feeling exhausted. With a sleep apnea condition, your body wakes up exhausted due to oxygen deprivation.
If you mask your sleep apnea symptoms by taking melatonin, you can delay the proper diagnosis and treatment. For the sake of your health, see an ENT doctor who specializes in sleep disorders before starting to take melatonin. Consulting with a doctor can help you understand the problem and find the solution before your health deteriorates.
We Can Help
If you struggle with sleep health issues stemming from insomnia, talk to us at Enticare. Our ENT doctors focus on sleep disorders and the latest technological advances to treat these struggles. If your sleep apnea steals your nightly rest, you can wake up feeling refreshed again. Instead of trying one OTC medication after another, find out how to get your life back again. Contact us today and see how we can help you.