Is Melatonin Harmful? 3 Things You Need to Consider
Discover Healthy Alternatives to Melatonin That Can Help You Get a Good Night’s Sleep.
You lie awake, staring at the ceiling, silently praying your mind will shut off and *finally* feel sleepy soon.
It’s late. You’ve got a big day tomorrow. And you desperately want a good night’s sleep! But, here you are, restless and worried you’ll be staring at the ceiling all night long…
You turn to look at your bedside table and see the solution within reach:
A tiny bottle labeled, “Melatonin: Natural Sleep Support”.
What is Melatonin and How Does it Work?
Let’s take a step back for a moment.
Melatonin is a naturally occurring hormone produced in the brain. It plays a key role in the timing of our circadian rhythms (the body’s internal 24-hour clock) and sleep. (1)
When it starts to get dark outside, your brain produces melatonin as a response. This puts your body into a state of “quiet wakefulness” which is essentially a state that promotes sleep. (2)
It’s important to note that in today’s world, you can easily disrupt melatonin production by being around or looking at bright light before bed. TV screens, iPads, cell phones… I’m looking at you!
Because it’s so easy to block melatonin production (and we don’t produce too much on our own as it is) many people resort to buying melatonin supplements at their local drugstore.
These supplements are proven to be effective.
And because it’s a naturally occurring hormone, people believe these supplements must be healthy. They sure are marketed as such!
But is melatonin really harmless?
Is Taking Melatonin Supplements Safe?
Like with many health topics, the answer isn’t so black and white.
On one side, melatonin is a powerful antioxidant. (3) It has anti-inflammatory properties and is highly effective in reducing oxidative stress, making it a useful supplement choice for people with cancer or certain inflammatory illnesses.
So, does this mean it’s healthy?
While studies show that taking a melatonin supplement can be considered safe, and even highly beneficial in some cases, there are a few important factors you need to consider before taking it yourself.
#1. It’s not properly regulated.
Melatonin is regulated as a “dietary supplement” in the United States, which means the FDA doesn’t test it for safety or effectiveness as it does for prescription medications.
Because of its lack of regulation, you really don’t know what you’re putting in your body when you take it. This is dangerous for anyone, especially people taking other medications.
A study conducted in 2017 analyzed 31 melatonin supplements and found that the contents were quite different from what was listed on the bottle… (4)
Many supplements contained different levels of melatonin than was listed, and some even contained serotonin, a hormone that can cause serious problems if levels are too high. (5)
#2. It can have negative side effects.
In addition to worrying about what’s really inside these supplements…
It’s important to remember that melatonin is a hormone! Taking synthetic hormones can affect puberty, your menstrual cycle, and possibly other important systems in the body.
Studies also show that melatonin supplements can cause:
- Sleepiness (6)
And this is only after short-term use.
#3. It does NOT address the root cause of your sleep problems.
If you’re having trouble dozing off to sleep or sleeping through the night, there is likely an underlying health issue that needs to be addressed.
This could be several things, including:
- Digestive problems
- Poor sleep habits
- Hormone-related issues
Whatever it is, loading more hormones into your body is not the answer!
Healthy Alternatives to Melatonin
While you work to get to the root of the problem, you have options for natural sleep aids that help to promote a good night’s sleep, benefit your health, and come with lower risk.
These are wonderful to turn to on those random staring-at-the-ceiling nights, too!
Where traditional melatonin supplements come from synthetic or animal sources, Herbatonin is plant-based (yes, melatonin can be found in plants!).
Its low dose of 0.3mg is also the amount that your brain naturally releases every day, making it safer to consume than some standard melatonin supplements that have a dosage of 10mg!
This alternative allows you to get all the benefits of melatonin but with a significantly lower risk.
#2. Herbal Teas
- Lemon Balm
- Valerian Root
- Holy Basil
These herbs help to calm the mind by lowering our stress hormone (cortisol) and gently soothing the nervous system.
You can make yourself a warm cup to sip an hour or so before bed (one of my favorite ways to wind down!) or even add tea to your bath!
Magnesium, specifically magnesium glycerite/glycerophosphate, helps the brain and body relax by activating the parasympathetic nervous system and boosting naturally occurring melatonin!
So, instead of taking an underregulated synthetic hormone, you can take an essential mineral to naturally boost your sleepy hormone.
For the reasons mentioned above, I highly recommend shopping professional-grade supplements rather than drugstore or grocery store brands.
#4. CBD (Cannabidiol)
If you keep a pulse on new trends in the wellness world, you’ve probably heard of this one!
CBD is a naturally occurring chemical found in a marijuana plant – but to be clear, it does not contain THC, the psychoactive ingredient that creates a high.
But it is proven to help lower anxiety and improve sleep in some people!
In a 2019 study, over 65% of participants reported getting better sleep after just one month of taking CBD. (7) So, it may be worth a try.
As with any wellness supplement or product, quality and dosage matter. Please consult with a health professional before starting any new supplement or regimen.
Here’s the Bottom Line.
For me, melatonin supplements are never the best option. But, if you’re curious about taking them, chat with a trusted health and wellness professional first to make sure it’s safe for you.
And remember – melatonin should never be a long-term solution to your sleep woes.
There are a handful of healthy alternatives to melatonin plus healthy sleep habits you can implement to set yourself up for a good night’s sleep.
If you need support in this area, I’m here to help! Schedule an initial consultation to get started.
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (n.d.). Melatonin: What you need to know. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. Retrieved December 14, 2022, from https://www.nccih.nih.gov/health/melatonin-what-you-need-to-know
- Melatonin for sleep: Does it work? Melatonin for Sleep: Does It Work? | Johns Hopkins Medicine. (2022, April 11). Retrieved December 14, 2022, from https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/wellness-and-prevention/melatonin-for-sleep-does-it-work
- Reiter, R. J., Mayo, J. C., Tan, D. X., Sainz, R. M., Alatorre-Jimenez, M., & Qin, L. (2016). Melatonin as an antioxidant: under promises but over delivers. Journal of pineal research, 61(3), 253–278. https://doi.org/10.1111/jpi.12360
- Melatonin Natural Health Products and supplements: Presence of serotonin and significant variability of melatonin content. Journal of clinical sleep medicine: JCSM: official publication of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. Retrieved December 14, 2022, from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27855744/
- Volpi-Abadie, J., Kaye, A. M., & Kaye, A. D. (2013). Serotonin syndrome. The Ochsner journal. Retrieved December 14, 2022, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3865832/
- Andersen, L. P., Gögenur, I., Rosenberg, J., & Reiter, R. J. (2016). The Safety of Melatonin in Humans. Clinical drug investigation, 36(3), 169–175. https://doi.org/10.1007/s40261-015-0368-5
- Shannon, S., Lewis, N., Lee, H., & Hughes, S. (2019). Cannabidiol in Anxiety and Sleep: A Large Case Series. The Permanente journal, 23, 18–041. https://doi.org/10.7812/TPP/18-041