A wake-up call for melatonin users

A wake-up call for melatonin users

This is a wake-up call for all those suffering from sleeplessness who take a popular over-the-counter sleep aid: A recent study shows melatonin use among adults has doubled in the past 10 years, and the doses are reaching dangerously high levels.

Melatonin is a hormone naturally produced by the brain that regulates our circadian rhythm, the internal clock that tells our bodies when it’s time to sleep. It can also be produced synthetically, and in 2020, Americans spent more than $800 million on the bottled stuff.

Over-the-counter melatonin is commonly used by those with jet lag or overnight workers. But it’s increasingly becoming a go-to for those who can’t sleep because of stress and anxiety which have both increased during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In the short term, small doses of melatonin can be effective. But the study shows users are taking dosages that far exceed the recommended 5 milligram per day amount. It’s unknown what the long-term effects are of using melatonin in higher amounts than what our brains produce, both on sleep patterns and overall health.

Additionally, according to the National Institutes of Health, there is no evidence that melatonin is a cure for chronic insomnia. What also keeps experts up at night is that the actual amount of melatonin in OTC supplements can be nearly five times as much as what’s shown on the label.

Dr. Tarif Smadi, pulmonologist and sleep medicine expert at Aurora Health Care, says to speak with your doctor first before using melatonin for sleep issues.

“Unregulated use of melatonin can actually worsen circadian rhythm disorders depending on when it’s taken, regardless of the dosage. In fact, higher doses will only lead to more adverse reactions,” said Dr. Smadi.

If you do use melatonin, look for pharmaceutical grade melatonin with a stamp that shows the product has been tested. Also watch for side effects like headache, dizziness, nausea, stomach cramps, allergies, tremors, and low blood pressure.

If your sleep issues don’t go away, you might have chronic insomnia. There a number of natural techniques that can help:

  • Read or listening to calming music
  • Take a shower or bath before bed
  • Go to bed and get up at the same time each day, including weekends
  • Avoid screen time before bed and turn off TVs, laptops and phones
  • Make sure your room is dark
  • Lower the temperature in your room
  • Avoid drinking caffeine at night
  • Try to exercise during the day, stretch or do yoga or meditation

Learn more about sleep disorders, sleep tests and treatments here.

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One Comment

  1. Dear Sirs,
    I have been taking Melatonin (USP) for the past 20 years. I increased from 5mg to 7.5mg several years ago. What is the alternate sleep aid that you would recommend if I stop using Melatonin?


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About the Author

Matt Queen
Matt Queen

Matt Queen, health enews contributor, is a communication coordinator at Aurora Health Care in Milwaukee. He is a former TV sports anchor and journalist with extensive public relations experience across the health care spectrum. Outside of work, Matt enjoys watching sports (of course), cooking, gardening, golfing and spending time with his wife and two young children.