Reliant On Melatonin? Why You Shouldn't Take It Every Day & How To Stop
Melatonin is one of the most commonly purchased supplements, often touted as the ideal solution for sleep. But just because something is popular doesn’t mean it’s safe, especially to take every day. We have to ask: Can we become dependent on melatonin? And if we are looking to stop taking melatonin every night, what can we do about it? Read on to find out.
Insomnia and melatonin supplements
Whether it’s due to a stressful time, a too-late-in-the-afternoon coffee, or an underlying health condition, almost all of us have trouble sleeping at some point in our lives. And that’s not just based on a feeling: Research shows that about one in three adults have insomnia symptoms, and about 10% of us have insomnia disorder, which means we experience those symptoms on the regular.
This can leave us relying on prescription, over-the-counter, or natural sleep aids to get to sleep and stay asleep. Melatonin is one of the most popular sleep aids, but how does it actually work?
According to Navya Mysore, M.D., a primary care and family medicine physician for One Medical in New York, “Melatonin is a hormone that our brain produces in response to darkness. It helps with timing our circadian rhythms and sleep. Natural melatonin, which is produced by the pineal gland in the brain, peaks about two hours before your bedtime."
Unfortunately, though, being exposed to light in the evenings due to electronic devices can sabotage our evening melatonin production, which is where melatonin supplements come in. They provide an external source of this hormone, which makes us feel sleepy.
Chronic melatonin use: Is it safe?
Research shows that melatonin can lead to statistically significant improvements1 in sleep by helping people fall asleep faster in certain situations, like when you’re jet lagged. (Though it doesn't do much to help deepen sleep quality.) “Studies show that melatonin is generally safe to be taken for a short period of time,” says Mysore.
That said, she explains that there just aren’t enough studies or data to know that it’s safe to be taken long-term.
According to Mysore, “The research shows that, unlike many other sleep medications, you are unlikely to become dependent on melatonin.” But, she adds, “we do not have enough evidence for long-term use.”
"It's important to remember that melatonin is a hormone, and using any hormone regularly can downregulate your own production of that hormone," physician Seema Bonney, M.D. previously told mbg about why relying on melatonin to sleep every night is not a safe practice.
This aligns with many other expert recommendations to avoid thinking of melatonin as a long-term solution and instead invest in other sleep-supporting lifestyle practices.
Alternatives to everyday melatonin use
If you’re a regular melatonin user, the information above might be disheartening. But don’t be dismayed! There are plenty of science-backed ways to improve sleep as early as tonight. Here are six suggestions to get you started:
Try other sleep remedies: According to Mysore, there are a few other science-backed remedies for sleep that you can experiment with, including magnesium bisglycinate. You can check out some other non-melatonin sleep aids that are safe to take nightly here.
Support your circadian rhythm: Your circadian rhythm, also known as your sleep-wake cycle or internal clock, is regulated by melatonin and cortisol. It’s responsible for giving you energy during the day and sleepiness at night. To support it, “Try to keep the same sleep and wake times during the week,” recommends Mysore. You can also try to get sunlight on your skin and eyes first thing in the morning.
Create a nighttime “power down” ritual: Your wind down routine can involve relaxing activities that don’t involve a screen, like journaling, reading, or listening to an audiobook. “A nighttime ritual helps your body know it’s time to go to bed,” Mysore notes. That said, she recommends against eating, drinking, or exercising too close to bedtime, as these things can be counterproductive.
Keep your room cool: The best sleep environment is dark, quiet, and colder than you think. Experts say the optimal temperature for sleep is around 60 to 68 degrees Fahrenheit.
Be mindful of caffeine: “Try to stop your caffeine intake by noon so it’s easier to fall asleep,” says Mysore. Everyone responds to caffeine differently, so it might be worth figuring out whether you're a fast or slow metabolizer and timing your caffeine intake accordingly.
While melatonin can be effective for short-term use to help you fall asleep faster, evidence to support its long-term use is lacking. Instead, try other sleep aids like magnesium, and invest in sleep-supporting lifestyle practices to deepen your snooze.
Gretchen Lidicker is an mbg health contributor, content strategist, and the author of CBD Oil Everyday Secrets: A Lifestyle Guide to Hemp-Derived Health and Wellness and Magnesium Everyday Secrets: A Lifestyle Guide to Epsom Salts, Magnesium Oil, and Nature's Relaxation Mineral. She holds a B.S. in biology and earned her master’s degree in physiology with a concentration in complementary and alternative medicine from Georgetown University.