You’ve probably heard of melatonin and seen it on the shelves of pharmacies, health food stores, and even grocery stores. It’s true that melatonin is naturally produced in our bodies, but just like any supplement we take, there is a chance it may have side effects.
Melatonin is a hormone produced by the pea-sized pineal gland in our brains and is known to help regulate our sleep-wake cycles. Our sleep-wakes cycles (circadian rhythm) are directly related to darkness and light.
When exposed to light, the pineal gland suppresses the release of melatonin. These levels are minimal during the daytime and rise in the evening, making us feel drowsy and preparing us for sleep.
Some factors, such as age, shift work, jet lag, or lifestyle habits may actually keep your body from producing enough melatonin. The inability to produce enough of this sleep hormone can give you trouble trying to get to sleep at night.
If you have trouble sleeping, you may be considering trying an over-the-counter melatonin supplement, and are probably wondering what it is and if it has any side effects.
Melatonin supplements come in different forms such as chewable tablets, pills, and liquids.
There are two different types of melatonin supplements, natural and synthetic. While the natural form of melatonin may sound like a better option, some say that since this type of melatonin comes from the pineal gland of animals, there is a risk of viruses. The synthetic form is man-made and is made to have the same chemical structure as natural melatonin.
There are some studies that show that taking melatonin is safe when taken short-term and that adverse effects are minimal when taken long-term. (1)
It’s also important to note that while melatonin by its self may be safe, it could interfere with other medications and may not be safe to take for those with certain medical conditions.
There is not much evidence to determine the long-term safety of melatonin in children and adolescents.(3) There are also no human studies done on the safety of melatonin in women that are pregnant or breastfeeding, so it’s best to avoid it altogether if you’re in these categories.
There are no known dangers of taking melatonin daily. There is little-no data published on long term melatonin use. (4)
If you decide that a supplement isn’t right for you, there are other ways to try and boost your melatonin production naturally. Some things you can try include eating a healthy diet, reducing blue light exposure 2-3 hours before bedtime, getting sunlight during the day, and avoiding the use of lights if you wake up during the night.
If you are considering adding a melatonin supplement to your routine, make sure you discuss it with your doctor first, especially if you have any medical conditions or are taking medication.
© 2020 American Sleep Association.