science

Are Melatonin Supplements Bad For You? Your Questions Answered

Dr. Carla Montrond Correia ND, CNS

Medically Reviewed by

Dr. Carla Montrond Correia ND, CNS

6 min read

person sleeping on the couch

Melatonin is a popular supplement that can help support a good night’s sleep. But is it okay to take melatonin long-term? We examine the safety of melatonin.

What is melatonin?

Melatonin is one of the most popular supplements today. But melatonin isn’t just a supplement. It’s actually a naturally occurring hormone which helps the body maintain a circadian rhythm or sleep wake cycle. Melatonin is made in the pineal gland. In fact, this is the only function of this gland. When the body senses darkness, the pineal gland releases melatonin, signaling to our bodies that it is time to unwind and go to sleep.

It’s important to know that melatonin is not addictive. Supplementing with melatonin does not affect your body’s melatonin production ability. Nor does it make your body less sensitive to the hormone.

Melatonin isn’t a sleep medication. Over-the-counter sleep medications typically use antihistamines to cause drowsiness. Instead, melatonin supplements use synthetic melatonin which is extremely similar to the natural hormone found in your body. Melatonin has antioxidant properties which may offer neuroprotective benefits. It may also help to lower the body’s core body temperature, which can help induce sleepiness.

Best uses for melatonin

As a supplement, melatonin is used to help support sleep. It’s a common choice to deal with jetlag and adjust to changes in time zones while traveling. People working different shifts also can use melatonin to help them as they make the switch to a different sleep pattern. Additionally, as we age, our bodies produce less melatonin, so supplementing can help with maintaining a healthy circadian rhythm, which is important for overall health.

Care/of’s Sleep Blend for instance can be used to help you fall asleep naturally and aid in relaxing the mind for better sleep. It’s a vegan and vegetarian melatonin supplement (some melatonin supplements are made from animals or microorganisms) and contains 2.5 mg of melatonin in each capsule, along with Ashwagandha and Valerian extract to promote sleep.

Proper melatonin dosage

Melatonin is very safe, so as a supplement, you will notice it comes in a variety of different dosages. Although there is no standard dose, it’s important for each person to find a proper dosage that is right for them. It’s always best to begin with the smallest dose. Beginning with 500 mcg is a good rule of thumb. Care/of’s sleep formula is made with 2.5 mg, allowing you to take a small dose and increase slightly if needed. Don’t go over 10 mg of melatonin without consulting your healthcare provider. Older adults in particular may not need as high of a dose as younger adults.

Side effects of melatonin

Side effects of taking melatonin supplements are extremely rare. It’s also reassuring to note that when they do occur, these side effects are typically mild and include sleepiness during the day, nausea or headaches. There’s also little concern about withdrawal symptoms. In one study that found melatonin improved sleep quality and morning alertness for patients over the age of 55, there were few withdrawal symptoms when they stopped taking the supplement.

Possible long term effects of melatonin use

Melatonin has been sold on the mass market for around 30 years now with no significant long-term effects being widely reported. More studies need to be conducted over the numerous years to better understand any possible long-term effects of melatonin supplements. It is important to note that melatonin should not be seen as a long-term sleep solution. If you experience sleep issues, it is important to consult your professional healthcare provider. Seeking medical advice from a professional can help to identify and address any underlying issues which may be the cause of your sleep issues.

If you are looking for ways to improve your sleep and fall asleep faster, consider these sleep hygiene steps:

  • Light disrupts melatonin production. Always dim the lights at least an hour before bed.
  • Switch electronics to warm, not blue light during evening hours and aim for at least two hours of no electronics prior to bed.
  • Avoid working in bed or in your bedroom
  • Find soothing, calming activities to do before bed so your mind becomes more settled.

Melatonin and prescription medications or drugs

It’s always a good idea to talk to your doctor before beginning any supplement, particularly if you are taking a prescription medication. Although there are no major or serious interactions with medications, it is important to know about some drugs which interact with melatonin.

Conversely, melatonin can help boost melatonin levels in medications that deplete it. And for other medications, melatonin can be helpful and supportive. This is why it is best to speak to your doctor before beginning melatonin, particularly if you have a preexisting condition. In general, alcohol should not be combined with melatonin because of its sedative effect. And caffeine should also be avoided, since it is a stimulant and will cancel out any of the calming effects of melatonin.

Use in kids

Sleep issues are extremely common in children, affecting at least one in four children. If a child has trouble falling asleep, it’s best to begin by doing everything possible to encourage good sleep hygiene. That includes steps such as:

  • Tracking habits in a sleep diary
  • Seeking a sleep evaluation
  • Limiting screen time
  • Promoting cool temperatures in their sleep area
  • Creating a consistent and predictable sleep schedule and routine
  • Eliminating sources of caffeine
  • Avoiding large meals close to bedtime
  • Encourage regular exercise during daytime hours
  • Limit naps

If all of those steps have been exhausted and your child is still experiencing trouble falling asleep, melatonin can be introduced under the guidance of a healthcare professional. Again, start with the smallest dose possible. Children should not exceed a daily dose of over 5 mg of melatonin.

How to increase melatonin levels naturally

Supplements aren’t the only way to increase your melatonin levels. There are also diet and lifestyle choices which can encourage the body’s natural production of the sleep hormone. Here are some ways to increase melatonin levels naturally:

  • Eat kiwi fruit. It may help improve how quickly you fall asleep and also the duration of sleep.
  • Drink tart cherry juice.
  • Add calming chamomile tea to your nightly ritual
  • Include foods high in melatonin into your evening diet, such as grapes, strawberries and pistachios.
  • Eat foods high in tryptophan. This essential amino acid is used to make serotonin and melatonin. Find high concentrations in milk, cheese, canned tuna, and of course, turkey.
  • Add herbal remedies to your daily diet. Valerian, ashwagandha, and passionflower help support the nervous system and are found in Care/of’s melatonin sleep blend.

Final takeaways

Melatonin is a naturally occurring hormone produced by the body during times of darkness to promote sleepiness and rest. Melatonin supplements can boost levels, supporting falling asleep more naturally and a calmer mind. It’s especially beneficial for jet lag and occasional trouble getting to sleep. But melatonin shouldn’t be a long-term solution. Although science shows there are no long-term effects of melatonin supplements, it’s best to address sleep issues with a healthcare professional to identify underlying causes.

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