When you have trouble falling asleep, you might have considered reaching for a bottle of melatonin supplements to help ease yourself into your bedtime ritual.
Melatonin, commonly known as the all-natural, non-addictive sleep aid, has become increasingly popular over recent years. That fact is unsurprising when you consider the number of American adults dealing with sleep disorders such as insomnia.
An estimated 50-70 million adults in the US have some sort of sleep disorder, with insomnia being the most common form. An estimated 30% of adults have experienced short-term insomnia, and about 10% suffer from chronic insomnia.
So it makes sense that 1.3% of adults would turn to melatonin supplements that naturally signal to our bodies that it is time to go to sleep and obtain a healthy sleep cycle. Whether you’re suffering from a sleep disorder like insomnia or simply dealing with jet lag after a red-eye flight, melatonin can be an incredibly helpful aid before bedtime.
But how much do you take? If you look online, there is a wide variety of dosage recommendations for melatonin: anywhere from .2 to 60 mg at a time.
Because proper melatonin dosage has not been standardized by an FDA-regulated process, this lack of information might cause you to wonder, “Is it possible to take too much melatonin, and what will happen if I do?”
To answer those questions, first of all, you need to understand what melatonin is and how it works.
What is Melatonin?
Melatonin is a hormone naturally produced by our pineal gland that gives the signal to our body that it’s time to sleep and help us to follow our natural circadian rhythm. Circadian rhythms are our natural 24-hour cycles in response to light and darkness in our environment. The typical circadian rhythm for humans involves sleeping at night and remaining awake during the day.
Our body responds to light and darkness. When it becomes dark outside, the levels of this hormone naturally start to rise in the body.
Nonetheless, sleep disruption has become common in modern times. Although melatonin is a hormone naturally occurring in our bodies, levels of the substance can be negatively affected by various outside factors, including not getting enough exposure to sunlight during the day, jet lag, shift work, stress and light pollution both outside and inside the home.
This endless amount of light negatively affects the production of this natural hormone. As a result, people have begun to turn to supplements to fall asleep and keep a healthy sleep cycle.
Supplementing with melatonin when your body fails to produce enough of this hormone naturally can mean being able to get a good night’s sleep and defeat daytime fatigue from sleeplessness.
When a little melatonin works well, people often make the mistake of thinking more works better. That’s not always the case.
Taking too much melatonin at once can cause headaches, nausea, dizziness or irritability. It’s important to learn the right dose for you, and know the adverse side effects that can come from taking too much.
Can You Overdose on Melatonin?
With the common overdoses of pharmaceutical sleep aids, it’s natural to question if you should worry about taking too much melatonin and possibly overdosing on it. Dr. Jessica Nouhavandi, the head pharmacist and founder of Honeybee Health, an online pharmacy based in Los Angeles, said, “I can say that it is highly unlikely for a patient to overdose on Melatonin and regarding overuse, it is unlikely for there to be any serious side effects.”
She explained that for her patients her biggest concern is that melatonin can lose effectiveness over time. If it is used too frequently, your brain may build up a tolerance to it, so she recommended checking in with your primary care doctor if you continue to experience repeated sleep issues.
Dr. Nikola Djordjevic, a medical advisor for healthcareers.co, recommended caution when supplementing melatonin, primarily because it doesn’t work on everyone the same, and it can lead to overdose, or an excessive amount of melatonin that may bring on adverse side effects. While it is possible to take too much, it’s highly unlikely to cause any fatal side effects.
Most likely, taking more than the necessary amount of melatonin will simply make you sleepy or groggy during the day. Dr. Djordjevic explained that symptoms of melatonin overdose include sleepiness during the day, crankiness, headaches, dizziness, upset stomach, diarrhea, joint pain and anxiety. In rare cases, his patients have felt more awake after taking melatonin.
To understand how much is too much, he warned against taking more than 5 mg of melatonin without a doctor’s prescription. He added, however, that — for some — it’s possible to overdose on lower doses.
Melatonin Side Effects: What Happens if You Take Too Much?
While the experts agree it is unlikely you will experience serious side effects from taking a high dose of melatonin, it can give you some negative side effects you might rather not deal with. It can even do the exact opposite of its intention. According to Medical News Today, taking too much melatonin could disrupt your circadian rhythm, making you sleepy during the day and more alert at night.
Other adverse side effects may include:
- nightmares/vivid dreams
- daytime sleepiness or grogginess
- irritability or mild anxiety
The use of melatonin supplements can affect blood pressure in certain people. This result could be good or bad, depending on whether a person has low or high blood pressure. One study concluded that melatonin could help prevent hypertension and lower blood pressure in people with type 1 diabetes.
Though one of the side effects above is an increase in vivid dreams or nightmares, experts believe that this is simply a result of experiencing deeper REM sleep. Interestingly enough, one study found that melatonin could improve REM sleep so much that it could be used to help treat REM sleep behavior disorder (RBD), which occurs when sleeping people engage in violent or potentially injurious behaviors while acting out dreams during REM sleep.
Melatonin Drug Interactions: What Not to Mix With Melatonin
If you’re taking any other medications, be sure to seek your doctor’s advice before taking melatonin supplements.
Dr. Djordjevic advised against mixing melatonin with:
- sedatives: Combining melatonin with sedatives can cause too much sleepiness.
- birth control pills: Some birth control pills cause your body to produce melatonin, so supplementing could push your levels into an unhealthy range.
- pregnancy and the breastfeeding period: There is still not enough research to deem melatonin safe during pregnancy and breastfeeding.
- caffeine and alcohol: These stimulants and depressants can interfere with your natural circadian rhythm and affect your production of melatonin.
- anticoagulant/antiplatelet drugs: You might have increased chances of bruising and bleeding.
- diabetes: Melatonin can increase blood sugar levels.
So, How Much Melatonin Should You Take?
Melatonin supplements aren’t regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), so there are no official dosing guidelines to follow. Dosage recommendations are as different as the doctors you talk to.
While Dr. Nouhavandi recommended starting with 5 mg and gradually increasing to 10 mg nightly, Dr. Djordjevic believes in erring on the side of caution. He argued that research has indicated that starting melatonin in smaller doses will help promote sleep in the best way.
“When we say small doses, we mean 0.5 mg up to 3 mg, “ he added. “I would suggest patients start at 0.5 mg one hour before bed and gradually increase the dosage until they see the results they wanted.”
He warned against taking more than 5 mg of melatonin without a doctor’s prescription.
He explained that the usual dose for the times we cannot fall asleep because we’re too stressed or anxious is between 0.2 and 5 milligrams one hour before bedtime. We can safely use melatonin supplements for up to two months, but it’s important to note that melatonin alone is not making us fall asleep faster. Instead, it prompts our body to start the metabolic functioning related to going to sleep.
“Due to our body’s individual needs, we should track our reactions to taking melatonin, and if we experience any of those symptoms, we should lower the dose and seek doctors’ advice,” Dr. Djordjevic said.
Dr. Nouhavandi agreed that it may take time to understand how your body reacts to melatonin: “It can take a few weeks for melatonin to start working. So, even if it doesn’t feel like it’s working at first, stick with it for at least a couple of weeks.”
Every body is different. Take your time in determining the dose that works best for you by increasing the dosage as needed over time. If you experience adverse side effects, be sure to stop use or return to a lower dosage.
Sleep Well, Be Well
Before starting melatonin or any over-the-counter medication or supplement, always talk to your doctor, especially if you take other medications.
While it is possible to experience adverse side effects from taking too much melatonin, you are highly unlikely to experience any serious side effects from melatonin alone.
This is good news if you suffer from insomnia, nighttime anxiety, shift work, jet lag, or an off-kilter circadian rhythm. Melatonin supplements can become the all-natural, non-addictive sleep aid you’ve been looking for to improve your quality of life.
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