- It can also interact with common medications and trigger allergies.
- growing subset of adults are taking amounts of melatonin that far exceed the 5 milligrams a day dosage that is typically used as a short term treatment.
- Research has found that the body will slow or stop melatonin production if exposed to light, including the blue light from our smartphones, laptops and the like.
A new study has found more and more adults are taking over-the-counter melatonin to get to sleep, and some of them may be using it at dangerously high levels, reports CNN.
Studies on melatonin
While overall use among the United States adult population is still “relatively low,” the study does “document a significant many-fold increase in melatonin use in the past few years,” said sleep specialist Rebecca Robbins, an instructor in the division of sleep medicine for Harvard Medical School, who was not involved in the study.
The study, published Tuesday in the medical journal JAMA, found that by 2018 Americans were taking more than twice the amount of melatonin they took a decade earlier. Experts worry that the pandemic’s negative impact on sleep may have further increased the widespread reliance on sleeping aids, Robbins said.
Melatonin has been linked to headache, dizziness, nausea, stomach cramps, drowsiness, confusion or disorientation, irritability and mild anxiety, depression and tremors, as well as abnormally low blood pressure. It can also interact with common medications and trigger allergies.
While short term use for jet lag, shift workers and people who have trouble falling asleep appears to be safe, long-term safety is unknown, according to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health at the National Institutes of Health.
Larger dose, little regulation
Since 2006, a small but growing subset of adults are taking amounts of melatonin that far exceed the 5 milligrams a day dosage that is typically used as a short term treatment, the study found.
However, pills for sale may contain levels of melatonin that are much higher than what is advertised on the label. Unlike drugs and food, melatonin is not fully regulated by the US Food and Drug Administration, so there are no federal requirements that companies test pills to be sure they contain the amount of advertised melatonin.
“Previous research has found that that melatonin content in these unregulated, commercially available melatonin supplements ranged from – 83% to +478% of the labeled content,” said Robbins.
Nor are there any requirements that companies test their products for harmful hidden additives in melatonin supplements sold in stores and online. Previous studies also found 26% of the melatonin supplements contained serotonin, “a hormone that can have harmful effects even at relatively low levels,” according to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, a department of the National Institutes of Health.
Taking too much serotonin by combining medications such as antidepressants, migraine medications and melatonin can lead to a serious drug reaction. Mild symptoms include shivering and diarrhea, while a more severe reaction can lead to muscle rigidity, fever, seizures and even death if not treated.
It’s a hormone, not a herb
Because it is purchased over the counter, experts say many people view melatonin as a herbal supplement or vitamin. In reality, melatonin is a hormone made by the pineal gland, located deep within the brain, and released into the bloodstream to regulate the body’s sleep cycles.
Studies have found that while using melatonin can be helpful in inducing sleep if used correctly — taking it at least two hours before bed — but the actual benefit is small.
“When adults took melatonin, it decreased the amount of time it took them to fall asleep by four to eight minutes,” Dr. Cora Collette Breuner, a professor in the department of paediatrics at Seattle Children’s Hospital at the University of Washington, told CNN last March.
“So for someone who takes hours to fall asleep, probably the better thing for them to do is turn off their screens, or get 20 to 40 minutes of exercise each day, or don’t drink any caffeinated products at all,” Breuner said.
Training your brain to sleep
Research has found that the body will slow or stop melatonin production if exposed to light, including the blue light from our smartphones, laptops and the like.
“Any LED spectrum light source may further suppress melatonin levels,” said Dr. Vsevolod Polotsky, who directs sleep basic research in the division of pulmonary and critical care medicine at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, in a prior CNN interview.
Other tips for a better sleep
Other tips include keeping your bedroom temperature at cooler temperatures of about 60 to 67 degrees Fahrenheit (15 to 20 degrees Celsius). We sleep better if we’re a bit chilly, experts say.
Set up a bedtime ritual by taking a warm bath or shower, reading a book or listening to soothing music. Or you can try deep breathing, yoga, meditation or light stretches. Go to bed and get up at the same time each day, even on weekends or your days off, experts say. The body likes routine.
If your doctor does prescribe melatonin to help with jet lag or other minor sleep issues, keep the use “short-term,” Robbins said.
If you are planning to use melatonin for short-term sleep aid, try to purchase pharmaceutical grade melatonin, she advised. To find that, look for a stamp showing the product has been tested by the independent, nonprofit US Pharmacopoeial Convention Dietary Supplement Verification Program.
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