In a world where sleepless nights are all too common, a hormone called melatonin has become a shining star in the sky of sleep aids. Its popularity has surged in recent years as more and more people turn to it for a good night’s rest.
But with the rise in melatonin use comes some important questions: Is it a miracle cure or a potential hindrance? Can it be used every night without worry? Are there other options worth exploring?
This article will answer those questions and more, but first, let’s lay some groundwork.
What Is Melatonin?
Melatonin is a hormone that’s naturally produced by the pineal gland in the brain. Its production is regulated by the body’s internal clock, which responds to changes in light and dark. When it gets dark outside, the body releases more melatonin, which helps promote sleep. Conversely, when it gets light outside, the body produces less melatonin, which helps to promote wakefulness.
Over the last couple of decades, the use of melatonin supplements as a sleep aid has become increasingly popular. In fact, the use of melatonin supplements by adults in the U.S. more than quintupled between 1999 and 2018.[*] This rise in melatonin use may be due to several factors, including:
- The growing awareness of the importance of sleep for overall health and well-being.
- Increased stressors, habits, and lifestyles that promote poor sleep—up to 19% of adults in the U.S. report not getting enough rest or sleep every day.[*]
- The perceived safety and effectiveness of melatonin as a natural sleep aid.
- The ease of access and affordability of melatonin supplements, which are widely available over the counter in various forms, such as tablets, capsules, gummies, and liquids.
While melatonin may be helpful for some people, it’s not a cure-all, and its benefits and shortcomings need to be carefully considered. Let’s start by considering melatonin’s potential benefits for sleep.
How Melatonin Supports Sleep
Given the established role of natural melatonin (produced by the body) in promoting quality sleep, it’s understandable that many people wonder whether taking melatonin supplements can have the same effect.
Research to date points to yes. Studies have demonstrated that for certain sleep-related conditions, taking melatonin supplements can be effective in reducing the time it takes to fall asleep, increasing total sleep time, and improving sleep efficiency (the amount of time spent asleep while in bed).[*][*]
More specifically, research has identified two conditions—delayed sleep-wake phase disorder and jet lag—that may benefit the most from melatonin use.
Delayed Sleep-Wake Disorder and Jet Lab
Delayed sleep-wake phase disorder causes a person to have difficulty falling asleep at the most common bedtimes (i.e. 9 pm, 10 pm, 11 pm, etc.), which makes it challenging to wake up early in the morning for work or school. Research has shown that taking melatonin one hour before the desired bedtime can help people with this condition positively adjust their sleep cycle.[*]
Jet lag occurs when a person travels across multiple time zones and their body’s internal clock becomes out of sync with the local day-night cycle. Studies have indicated that melatonin supplements may help regulate the sleep-wake cycle and improve sleep quality in people with jet lag.[*]
The efficacy of melatonin in treating insomnia, a common sleep disorder characterized by difficulty falling or staying asleep, remains a topic of debate among experts. While some studies suggest that melatonin may benefit sleep in otherwise healthy adults with insomnia, the existing evidence is not conclusive.
That being said, there are numerous anecdotal reports of people with insomnia and other types of sleep problems being helped by melatonin.
Are Melatonin Supplements Safe?
Melatonin supplements are generally considered safe for short-term use, and most people tolerate them well with few side effects. The most commonly reported side effects include mild daytime drowsiness, headaches, and dizziness.[*]
However, these side effects are experienced by only a small fraction of people who take melatonin supplements.
Can Melatonin Be Taken Nightly?
Despite a lack of established evidence for most sleep disorders and problems, many people with insomnia swear by taking melatonin every night. But is it safe to do so?
Currently, there is very little data about the long-term effects of melatonin supplements in children and adults. Some studies have suggested that sustained use of melatonin may affect the onset of puberty in children, but the evidence is inconclusive at this time.[*]
Given the uncertainties around the long-term safety of melatonin supplements, it’s important for people to maintain ongoing conversations with their healthcare providers about their sleep quality and overall health. Healthcare providers can help evaluate whether melatonin supplements are an appropriate intervention and monitor any potential effects of their long-term use, especially in children.
Healthcare providers can also help identify and address any underlying causes of sleep problems and recommend other strategies to promote healthy sleep habits.
Possible Alternatives to Melatonin
Besides melatonin, there are several other options that can be considered for people who experience sleep problems. Some of these options include:
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia (CBT-I): CBT-I is a type of therapy that aims to identify and address thoughts and behaviors that can interfere with sleep.
- Lifestyle changes: Changing your sleep habits and lifestyle can also help improve sleep quality. This may include avoiding caffeine and alcohol, establishing a regular sleep schedule, creating a comfortable sleep environment, and exercising regularly.
- Herbal supplements: Some herbal supplements, such as valerian root, lavender, passionflower, and chamomile, have been shown to have mild sleep-promoting effects in some studies.[*][*][*]
- Magnesium: Magnesium is an essential mineral involved in numerous bodily processes, including brain function and heart health. Research has also suggested that magnesium may play a role in promoting healthy sleep.[*]
- CBD: CBD, or cannabidiol, is a compound derived from hemp that is used in a variety of products, including oils and capsules. Unlike other cannabis products, CBD contains very low amounts of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive compound that can cause a high. This means that using CBD products won’t result in intoxicating effects. Some research suggests that CBD may have anxiety-reducing properties and could potentially act as a natural sleep aid.[*]
It’s important to discuss these options with a healthcare provider to determine the most appropriate approach for addressing your sleep problems, especially if they’re severe or persistent.
Take the First Step Toward Improved Sleep Today
Melatonin can be a useful supplement for certain sleep problems, but it’s important to use it judiciously and consult with a healthcare provider before taking it regularly. While melatonin has few short-term side effects, its long-term effects are not well understood.
If you’re struggling with sleep issues or other health concerns, consider becoming a Knew Health member. With our membership, you’ll have access to free telemedicine appointments to address general medical concerns. Knew Health members also receive free health coaching sessions to help establish healthy habits and manage stress, which can contribute to better sleep quality.
To top it off, members receive access to a 35% discount on nutritional and wellness supplements, including melatonin, magnesium, and others.
Knew Health effectively manages costs through price transparency and medical cost sharing, ensuring you receive the best quality care at the most reasonable cost.
The journey to better sleep is a marathon, not a sprint. But with Knew Health by your side, you can rest assured you’ll have the support you need to reach the finish line feeling happy, healthy, and well-rested.