When insomnia becomes a nightly struggle, finding effective ways to fall asleep and stay asleep becomes a welcome relief. This is why an increasing number of people are turning to melatonin supplements. These synthetic hormones mimic the natural hormones produced by the pineal gland in the brain, helping to regulate the circadian rhythm in response to darkness. A 2018 study revealed that people are now taking melatonin at twice the rate they did a decade ago.
However, doctors caution against the long-term use of melatonin supplements and highlight potential unintended consequences when taken every night before bed. Dr. Nilong Vyas, a pediatrician and medical review expert, advises that melatonin should only be used to readjust a disrupted circadian rhythm, such as with jet lag, for a short period of time. The Mayo Clinic also emphasizes that melatonin should not be solely relied upon as the primary solution for poor sleep. It should be coupled with lifestyle changes that establish a solid foundation for overall health.
Taking melatonin every night may lead to certain side effects. While the risk of developing tolerance or physical dependency is low, some individuals may experience mild side effects with long-term use, such as headaches, daytime sleepiness, dizziness, stomach discomfort, or irritability. Rarer side effects can include vivid dreams or nightmares, feelings of depression, stomach cramps, increased fall risk, mood swings, and more. The response to melatonin can vary from person to person.
It is also important to consider potential interactions between melatonin and other medications. The Mayo Clinic highlights that certain types of medications, such as those that affect blood clotting, seizures, blood pressure, diabetes, or the immune system, may be more likely to interact with melatonin. Medicines broken down by the liver also have the potential to interact. Consulting with a healthcare professional is crucial to determine the safety of combining melatonin with other medications.
In terms of dosage and duration, it is recommended to seek personalized guidance from a healthcare professional. Melatonin is generally considered safe for short-term use, lasting a few nights to several weeks until sleep patterns normalize. The UK’s National Health Services (NHS) advises not exceeding a total of 13 weeks of regular use for low-dose melatonin (2mg slow-release tablets), unless advised otherwise by a doctor. It’s important to prioritize good sleep hygiene practices, such as maintaining a consistent sleep schedule, establishing a relaxing bedtime routine, and optimizing the sleep environment, as these can contribute to improved sleep quality without relying solely on sleep aids like melatonin.