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Is It Safe to Take Melatonin Every Night?

December 11, 2023

In a world that never powers down, more and more people are turning to melatonin supplements as part of their sleep ritual. But is it safe to take melatonin every night? We asked health expert Christelle Nimba, APRN, with Hartford HealthCare Medical Group. [insert-cta-small id=43342]

What is melatonin, and is the supplement version safe?

Melatonin is a hormone that the brain naturally produces in response to darkness. It signals to your body that it's time to wind down, including by helping you feel drowsy. On top of what your body naturally makes, you can purchase synthetically made melatonin in the supplement aisle. “It’s a safe, naturally occurring, over-the-counter dietary supplement,” says Nimba. > Are You a Night Owl? How to Get Better Sleep in an Early-Bird World

For some people, it helps with falling asleep sooner.

“When patients come to me for sleep issues, melatonin is usually my go-to. I’ve personally taken it,” says Nimba. “You’re not groggy the next day, it’s doesn’t make you struggle to wake up in the morning.” Even the smallest dose — less than a milligram — can be effective for many people, especially if they’re following good sleep habits.

It’s great for jet lag or temporary sleep issues.

Melatonin supplements are really intended as a short-term aid. For example, you might take melatonin for a few nights to beat jet leg or deal with a rare bout of insomnia. Once your sleep cycle is back in rhythm, you can stop the supplement and let your body take it from there. Like the natural hormone itself, most melatonin supplements are best for help with falling asleep — not necessarily staying asleep. “If you need something to keep you from waking up in the middle of the night, try a prescription medication,” says Nimba. > Want more health news? Text StartHere to 85209 to sign up for text alerts

Do your research before choosing a brand, though.

When it comes to the vitamin aisle, you can’t believe everything you read. Unlike pharmaceutical medications, which the FDA scrutinizes for quality, supplements aren't regulated. This is a notorious problem for melatonin: In fact, a large 2017 study found that the dose and purity of many melatonin supplements didn’t match what was on the label. How do you find a quality product? Ask your health team for guidance, or search on a website like Consumer Lab, which independently tests supplements.

Melatonin isn’t for everyone.

Your body is a finely tuned machine, so talk to your health team before taking anything new — including melatonin. For example, melatonin may affect other medications you’re on. Or if you have a condition like diabetes or epilepsy, you may need to avoid it altogether. If you get the green light, be prepared for potential side effects. “The number one side effect that a lot of people experience are nightmares,” says Nimba. Less often, some people report dizziness, headaches and daytime sleepiness.

Even if it’s safe to take melatonin every night, you shouldn’t.

“Sure, it’s probably safe for you to take melatonin every night,” says Nimba. “But if you have to take it every single day for the rest of your life, you should talk to your health team instead.” First, because researchers are still studying melatonin’s long-term effects. Second, because it probably won’t solve your underlying sleep issues. It may help a bit, but not nearly as much as actually fixing the problem. “Are you having trouble falling asleep? Are you having trouble staying asleep? We have to find out what the underlying cause is,” says Nimba. “Maybe it’s depression or anxiety. Maybe it’s sleep apnea. Or maybe it’s something else.” With an expert’s help, you can find your personal solution for better sleep. Odds are, it’s not a lifetime supply of melatonin.