Man lying in bed hugging his pillow, trying to sleep

Melatonin Overuse on the Rise

Americans across all ages are using higher doses of melatonin pills to help them get to sleep. The use of higher-dose melatonin supplements greater than 5 milligrams per day tripled from 2016 to 2018 by participants in a recent survey. 

Some experts believe the increase could be a response to the increased screen time that accompanies modern life and disconnection from natural sunlight that helps set the circadian rhythms that cue our bodies to rest.  

But melatonin supplements aren’t heavily regulated by authorities – and there’s no clear evidence that they help. Which means there are some risks to consuming melatonin in higher doses than what the body would naturally produce.  

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration regards melatonin pills as dietary supplements, and as a result it does not subject them to the stricter standards that over-the-counter medication or prescription drugs have to adhere to.  

What is melatonin? 

Melatonin is produced by the body in response to darkness. It’s a hormone made by a gland in the brain – part of a system in the body that readies it for sleep. This is part of the commercial appeal to melatonin and what sets it apart from other sleep aids. 

Being exposed to light at night can disrupt the body’s production of melatonin. As many of us watch TV and use laptops or smartphones late into the night, it may be harder for us to fall asleep due to our disrupted natural rhythms.  

Use of a melatonin supplement as a sleeping aid is relatively small, but it’s reach is growing across all age groups and in both men and women. In the year between 1999 and 2000, 0.4% of individuals surveyed used melatonin; which increased to 2.1% in the year between 2017 and 2018.  

Safety  

There are few studies that detail the health effects of long-term use of higher doses of melatonin on the body. 

While short-term use of lower doses of melatonin are generally regarded as safe, the lack of regulation from authorities means pills may contain far more or far less melatonin than is advertised. Additionally, a 2017 study of 31 melatonin supplements on the market found that 26% contained serotonin – a hormone that can be harmful even in small amounts. 

For individuals who are on a medication regimen prescribed by their doctor, dietary supplements like melatonin may have potential negative interactions with other drugs. Supplements like melatonin could also pose a risk to individuals slated for an upcoming medical procedure like surgery.    

If you are having trouble sleeping and are considering using melatonin, talk to a health care provider first to see if it’s right for you.  

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