You may have come across melatonin supplements when browsing your local drugstore. They claim it’s a safe way to get a better night’s sleep, and more and more people are hitting the shelves to try it out. But do they really work? Here’s what the science says about using melatonin to aid sleep.
What is melatonin?
Melatonin is a hormone produced naturally within your body to control your sleep cycle. The appearance of darkness triggers the production of melatonin, explaining why you may feel tired at night and spend the day even after sleeping poorly. As you get older, you produce less melatonin, so you need less sleep.
Is melatonin safe?
Since melatonin is a natural hormone, many assume that it is a completely safe treatment for sleep disorders. However, the levels in supplements are often higher than what your body normally produces. While short-term use appears safe, there are potential side effects such as dizziness or headache. It is also possible for supplements to cause problems by interacting with other medications, so it is best to speak to your doctor before you start taking melatonin capsules.
There is also a concern regarding the purity of supplements. The actual concentration is often unknown in areas such as the United States, where melatonin is not regulated. A 2017 study found that among 31 melatonin supplements, the actual content varied between 83% less and 478% more than what was on the label.
When to use melatonin
Melatonin supplements work by changing your biological rhythm. It doesn’t make you more tired by getting you to sleep, but it does regulate when your body starts to feel tired. For this reason, melatonin is not suitable for treating insomnia when your body is tired, but you cannot sleep.
However, there are other areas in which it can be useful. If you have an irregular sleep pattern or any disorder that affects your circadian rhythm, melatonin can help with these issues. They may help if you work night shifts and need to sleep during the day when your melatonin level is naturally low. There is also a suggestion that melatonin may help children with autism sleep regularly, but this is inconclusive so far.
The bottom line is that melatonin supplements may not be the answer to insomnia. However, for other disorders, it may help regulate your sleep. As with any supplement, it is your choice, and if you decide to take it to aid sleep, it is not likely to do much harm. Despite this, you should always consult your doctor first to ensure that it will not interact with any other medicines you may be taking.
“Safety of Melatonin in Humans” By Lars Peter Holst Andersen, Ismael Gugnor, Jacob Rosenberg and Russell J. Reiter, December 21, 2015, Available here. Clinical Drug Investigations.
“Natural Health Melatonin Products and Supplements: Presence of Serotonin and the Large Variation in Melatonin Content” By Lauren AE Ireland, MA
and Praveen K. Saxena, Ph.D., 15 Feb 2017, Available here. Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine.
DOI: 10.5664 / jcsm.6462
“Clinical Practice Guide to the Pharmacotherapy of Chronic Insomnia in Adults: The American Academy of Sleep Medicine’s Clinical Practice Guideline” by Michael J. Satya, MD, Daniel J. . Neubauer, MD and Jonathan L.Heald, MA, 15 February 2017, Available here. Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine.
DOI: 10.5664 / jcsm.6470
“Melatonin for sleep in children with autism: a controlled trial examining dose, tolerability, and outcome” by Beth Mallo, Karen W. Adkins, Susan J. McGraw, Lily Wang, Susan E. Goldman, Diane Fox, and Courtney Burnett, December 10, 2011, Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders.