Given we’re all likely suffering from an uptick in sleepless nights lately, you might be tempted to reach for a bottle of melatonin—nature’s sleep aid. Melatonin is natural! It’s available over the counter! But although melatonin has been shown to be safe and non-habit-forming, there are still side effects that come with regular use. As with everything, moderation is key.
If you are considering using melatonin as a sleep aid to get you through the pandemic (or even after it’s over), there are a few things you should know first.
What is melatonin?
Melatonin is a hormone made in your body that signals your brain when it is time to sleep and wake up. Melatonin levels start rising when it gets dark out, causing you to get sleepy, and drop in the morning, when it is time for you to wake up.
What do melatonin supplements do?
Melatonin is available over the counter, often in pill, liquid or chewable form, and is often used as a sleep aid, in order to combat jet lag and insomnia, as well as other sleep issues. It should be noted that melatonin is sold as a supplement, which means companies selling it are not required to prove it is either safe or effective. However, there is a reasonable amount of evidence suggesting melatonin can help people fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer.
For most people, the benefits are subtle, meaning you will fall asleep a bit faster, and sleep a bit longer, but you won’t see dramatic shift in your sleep quality. On the other hand, unlike many more powerful sleep aids, melatonin isn’t habit-forming.
If you are taking melatonin because you are having trouble sleeping, the recommendation is to take it 30 minutes before you go to sleep. If you are taking melatonin in order to establish a more regular sleep schedule, the recommendation is to take it 2-3 hours before you go to bed.
What are the side effects?
Melatonin use does have side effects, some of which include nausea, headaches, dizziness and sleepiness. It can also interfere with some medications, such as antidepressants, blood thinners and blood pressure medications.
If you have never taken melatonin before, it’s a good idea to start with a lower dose first. There is also some concern that long-term use might cause your body to produce less melatonin, although the evidence for that is limited.
Is melatonin safe for kids?
Most of the studies on long-term melatonin use have been conducted in adults. There have been some studies on short-term usage in children that have shown it to be safe, but we still don’t know much about the effects of prolonged use. With that in mind, it’s best to be cautious when it comes to giving melatonin to kids, as much as it might seem like a solution to their disrupted pandemic sleep patterns.
Combine melatonin with good sleep habits
If you want to improve your sleep quality, it’s important to first establish good sleep habits. Tips for sleeping better includes developing a bedtime routine, avoiding electronics or stressful topics before bedtime and maintaining a regular fitness routine. These behaviors, performed consistently, will help your overall sleep quality. If that still isn’t enough, melatonin can be another useful tool for helping you get a better night’s sleep—but not the solution.