Research Says Melatonin Use Is On The Rise — But That Might Not Be A Good Thing
We all have the occasional night when we struggle to fall asleep, and for some, turning to a melatonin supplement is a helpful standby. According to new research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, this is happening more often than ever. Here's what to know about the latest trends in melatonin use and why they are so significant.
Melatonin consumption is way up in the US, according to this report.
For this research letter, a team of health professionals looked at the reported use of melatonin supplements among U.S. adults between 1999 and 2018. Based on their analysis, the study authors write that the prevalence of melatonin supplement consumption has "significantly increased" across all demographic groups since the turn of the century.
They note that additionally, taking more than 5 milligrams per day (far higher than the typical recommended dosage of 0.5 milligrams) has also become more common—which could prove a dangerous trend. "These estimates may raise safety concerns, especially given that the actual content of melatonin in marketed supplements may be up to 478% higher than the labeled content, and that evidence supporting melatonin use for sleep disturbances is weak," they write.
Why taking melatonin nightly might not be effective.
While taking a low dose of melatonin can be helpful for resetting the circadian clock (particularly when a reset is needed, think: travel) and getting your sleep back on track in the short term, taking it in high doses for extended periods of time—as this research suggests more people are now doing—might not be such a smart move.
Functional medicine doctor Frank Lipman, M.D., summarized why on a recent episode of the mbg podcast: Melatonin, he explained, is a hormone and in addition to promoting sleep, it also affects a number of other processes in the body. "Taking a lot of melatonin—a lot of people take 3 to 5 milligrams to sleep—over time is going to affect your other hormones and suppress your body's own ability to make melatonin," Lipman said.
And while these high doses may help some people fall asleep faster, there is limited evidence that melatonin will improve your overall sleep quality. As such, he doesn't recommend taking it as a nightly sleep supplement.
The bottom line.
As more people are taking melatonin supplements (and ones with extremely high levels of melatonin, for that matter), it's important to really understand what it is we're consuming. While melatonin may be effective for things like settling into a new time zone, it might not be helpful—and, in fact, could prove harmful—when taken in high doses nightly.
Sarah Regan is a Spirituality & Relationships Writer, as well as a registered yoga instructor. She received her bachelor's in broadcasting and mass communication from SUNY Oswego, and lives in Buffalo, New York.