What Science Says About the Use of Melatonin Supplements

Melatonin

You have probably come across melatonin supplements when browsing your local pharmacy. They claim to be a safe way to get better sleep at night, and more and more people are reaching to the shelves to give it a go. But do they actually work? Here is what the science says about using melatonin to aid in sleep.

What is Melatonin?


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Melatonin is a hormone naturally produced within your body to control your sleep cycle. The onset of darkness triggers melatonin production, explaining why you get tired at night and get through the day even after sleeping poorly. As you get older, you produce less melatonin, so you need less sleep.

Is Melatonin Safe?

As melatonin is a natural hormone, many assume it is a perfectly safe treatment for sleep disorders. However, the levels found within supplements are often higher than what your body would typically produce.[1] While short-term use seems safe, there are possible side effects such as dizziness or headache. It is also possible that supplements could cause problems by interacting with other medications, so it’s best to speak to your doctor before starting melatonin capsules.

There is also a concern relating to the purity of supplements. The actual concentration is often unknown in regions like the US, where melatonin is not regulated. A study conducted in 2017 found that out of 31 melatonin supplements, the actual content varied between 83% less and 478% more than what was on the label.[2]

When to Use Melatonin

Melatonin supplements work by altering your biological rhythm. They do not make you more tired by inducing sleep, but it regulates when your body begins to feel tired.[3] For this reason, melatonin is not suitable for treating insomnia when your body is tired, but you can not sleep.

However, there are other areas in which it can be of use. If you have an irregular sleep pattern or any disorder that affects your circadian rhythm, melatonin can help solve these problems. 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 on the autism spectrum sleep more regularly, but this is so far inconclusive.[4]

The bottom line is that melatonin supplements are probably not the answer to insomnia. However, for other disorders, they may help to regulate your sleep. As with any supplement, it is your choice, and if you do decide to take it to aid in sleep, it is unlikely to do much harm. Although, you should always consult your doctor first to ensure it won’t interact with any other medications you might be taking.

References

“The Safety of Melatonin in Humans” by Lars Peter Holst Andersen, Ismail Gögenur, Jacob Rosenberg and Russel J. Reiter, 21 December 2015, Clinical Drug Investigation.
DOI: 10.1007/s40261-015-0368-5

“Melatonin Natural Health Products and Supplements: Presence of Serotonin and Significant Variability of Melatonin Content” by Lauren A.E. Erland, MSc
and Praveen K. Saxena, PhD, 15 February 2017, Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine.
DOI: 10.5664/jcsm.6462

“Clinical Practice Guideline for the Pharmacologic Treatment of Chronic Insomnia in Adults: An American Academy of Sleep Medicine Clinical Practice Guideline” by Michael J. Sateia, MD, Daniel J. Buysse, MD, Andrew D. Krystal, MD, MS, David N. Neubauer, MD and Jonathan L. Heald, MA, 15 February 2017, Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine.
DOI: 10.5664/jcsm.6470

“Melatonin for Sleep in Children with Autism: A Controlled Trial Examining Dose, Tolerability, and Outcomes” by Beth Malow, Karen W. Adkins, Susan G. McGrew, Lily Wang, Suzanne E. Goldman, Diane Fawkes and Courtney Burnette, 10 December 2011, Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders.
DOI: 10.1007/s10803-011-1418-3

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