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Is melatonin a safe sleep solution?

A woman lies in bed with a sleep mask over her eyes.

May 6, 2022—When you get a good night's sleep, you might want to thank your brain's natural production of melatonin. It's a hormone that regulates your sleep/wake cycle and helps give you that blissful rest.

Melatonin supplements made from synthetic or natural sources are increasingly used as a treatment for sleep problems. But these supplements are not for everyone.

If you're considering a melatonin supplement, here are a few facts to know.

Does it work?

Melatonin supplements add to the natural melatonin levels that your brain produces at the end of each day when it's time to go to sleep.

According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH), there's not enough strong evidence to show that melatonin supplements can help people who have chronic insomnia or do shift work.

But studies have shown that over-the-counter melatonin supplements may help with sleep timing issues such as jet lag.

Is it safe?

Short-term use of melatonin supplements appears to be safe for most people. However, there's not enough research yet to show how safe it is for long-term use.

One reason to be cautious: You might not be getting the dose that's on the label. Melatonin is regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration as a dietary supplement, not as a drug. Regulations for supplements are not as strict. According to the NCCIH, a review of over-the-counter melatonin products found that in most cases, the amount of melatonin did not match the label. And many of the supplements contained serotonin, which can be harmful.

To be safe, remember these guidelines:

  • Ask about interactions. Talk with your doctor about how melatonin might react with other medicines you take, especially if you take blood thinners or have epilepsy.
  • Watch for allergic reactions. Ask your doctor what signs to look out for.
  • Don't take it if you're pregnant or breastfeeding. There has not been enough research for this group on how melatonin might affect your pregnancy or baby.
  • Take care if you're older. Daytime drowsiness may be higher for older people. And people with dementia should not take melatonin.
  • Use caution before giving it to kids. In most cases, it seems to be safe for short-term use. But there has not been much research on children and melatonin. Because melatonin is a hormone, there is a chance that it may affect children as they develop or as they go through puberty. Ask your child's doctor for advice.

Are there other things I should try first?

If you have trouble sleeping, the American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommends trying a few simple changes before taking melatonin. For instance, it may help to:

  • Keep a regular sleep schedule.
  • Create a relaxing bedtime routine.
  • Make your bedroom quiet and cool at night.
  • Avoid using screens for at least 30 minutes before going to sleep.
  • Avoid caffeine in the late afternoon or evening.

If changes like those aren't helping, talk to your doctor about what might be keeping you up at night. Together, you can make a well-informed decision about what's right for you.

Think you might have a sleep disorder? Take this quick assessment before you talk with your doctor.

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