Using melatonin for sleep is on the rise, study says, despite potential health harms
Many adults are taking over-the-counter melatonin to get to sleep, and some of them may be using it at dangerously high levels.
While overall use among the United States adult population is still low, the study does document a significant many-fold increase in melatonin use in the past few years.
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.
Taking sleep aids has been linked in prospective studies with the development of dementia and early mortality. 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.
Since 2006, a small but growing subset of adults are taking amounts of melatonin that far exceed the 5 milligram a day dosage that is typically used as a short term treatment.
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 melatonin content in these unregulated, commercially available melatonin supplements ranged from - 83% to +478% of the labeled content.
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.
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.
Because it is purchased over the counter, experts say many people view melatonin as an 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.
There is a view that if it's natural, then it can't hurt. The truth is, we just really don't know the implications of melatonin in the longer term, for adults or kids.
Another reality: Studies have found that using melatonin can be helpful in inducing sleep if used correctly, 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. 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.
There are other proven sleep tips that work just as well, if not better than sleeping aids, experts say. The body begins secreting melatonin at dark. What do we do in our modern culture? Use artificial light to keep us awake, often long past the body's normal bedtime.
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.
So ban those devices at least an hour before you want to fall asleep. Like to read yourself to sleep? That's fine, experts say, just read in a dim light from a real book or use an e-reader in night mode.
Other tips include keeping your bedroom temperature at cooler temperatures of about 60 to 67 degrees Fahrenheit. We sleep better if we're a bit chilly.
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. 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.For more information on health insurance or healthy tips, visit us through Healthedly Insurance Services to learn more.