lifestyle

Does Melatonin Really Cause Nightmares?

Dr. Carla Montrond Correia ND, CNS

Medically Reviewed by

Dr. Carla Montrond Correia ND, CNS

4 min read

Woman sleeping

Melatonin can be a powerful hormone that promotes deep, restful sleep. But does this deep sleep cause nightmares? We examine this common concern.

Millions of people use melatonin supplements to support a restful sleep. It’s become one of the most common and popular supplements. Still, people worry that melatonin may give them nightmares. With the benefits melatonin offers, we’ll examine where this belief comes from and what you can do to get the best, most restorative sleep.

What is melatonin?

Most people are familiar with melatonin as a sleep support supplement. But melatonin is also naturally produced by the body. It is the only hormone made by the pineal gland and encourages drowsiness. Melatonin production is triggered by darkness and supports a healthy sleep and wake cycle. Daylight (or lights in the home) will decrease the body’s production of melatonin, signaling waking hours and keeping the body in a proper circadian rhythm. But melatonin isn’t just the “sleepytime hormone.” It also has antioxidant benefits and can collect free radicals, preventing them from causing damage to cells.

How melatonin affects sleep

Melatonin is a hormone that the body produces to induce sleepiness and more uninterrupted sleep. It can also be taken as a supplement to promote deep sleep. When taking a supplement, it usually takes between one to two hours for effects like drowsiness to start. Melatonin supplements can be especially helpful as a sleep aid for jet lag when traveling between time zones. Care/of’s Sleep Blend: Snooze Button, for instance, relaxes the mind for better sleep and can help with falling asleep naturally.

Does melatonin cause nightmares or vivid dreams?

There are multiple phases of sleep, which combined are often referred to as “sleep architecture.” These phases include:

  • Non-REM Sleep (NREM): This type of sleep cycles through even more specific phases, from initial light sleep when you first fall asleep to deep sleep that is hard to be awakened from. Breathing and muscle movement slow during deep NREM. Brain waves also slow and the body uses this time to regenerate.
  • Rapid Eye Movement Sleep (REM): As the name implies, this is when brain activity increases, dreaming occurs, and heart rate and blood pressure rise. This phase occurs around two hours into a night’s sleep and usually lasts for approximately ten minute spans. As we get older, REM sleep diminishes.

Melatonin’s exact effect on sleep architecture has not been definitively determined by clinical research. In fact, no conclusive evidence has been published to show how dreams differ while using melatonin. However, because melatonin can encourage greater levels of REM sleep – the sleep phase when dreaming occurs – there may be a reason why melatonin has been linked to more vivid dreams.

One study of a small group of college students taking 6mg of melatonin found that female college students had more occurrences of bizarre dreams involving fantastical images like object transformation. They did not describe bad dreams or nightmares, however.

Why melatonin causes nightmares or vivid dreams

If you notice you have more vivid dreams when taking melatonin, it may be because your body is experiencing more periods of deeper sleep. Melatonin may encourage your body to remain in REM sleep for longer periods. REM sleep is when we dream the most. So melatonin may support more REM sleep, an important component of a restful night’s sleep. But it would be the REM sleep which actually brings about those vivid dreams. But it’s not just melatonin that may inspire vivid dreams. Stress, anxiety, emotional trauma, grief and certain medications can all lead to nightmares or vivid dreams.

Other side effects of melatonin

Melatonin helps promote sleepiness, so it naturally can cause drowsiness. For this reason, it should only be taken when you are in safe surroundings to fall asleep. It should not be used when operating a vehicle or machinery. It should also not be mixed with alcohol or certain medications. It’s best to consult with your healthcare provider before beginning a melatonin supplement to make sure it does not interact with any medications you may be taking.

What should you do if you’re experiencing nightmares after melatonin supplementation?

The first thing to do if you experience nightmares while taking melatonin is to decrease your nightly dosage. Begin with a small dose. Care/of’s Sleep Blend supplement, for instance, comes with 2.5mg of melatonin in each capsule. This allows each user to tailor their dosage to their needs. Some people may want to take two capsules, while others may only want to take one. Care/of’s Sleep Blend also includes sleep promoting herbs such as passionflower, ashwagandha, and valerian extract. As a result, you get to enjoy a more diverse sleep aid that doesn’t rely entirely on melatonin for sleep support. These herbs can also be used individually, if preferred.

Tips to limit having melatonin cause vivid dreams

Combining a smaller dose of melatonin with good sleep hygiene can further prevent vivid dreams. Sleep hygiene can help you fall asleep more quickly and with a more relaxed brain and body. Some positive steps to take to support good sleep hygiene include:

  • Putting away all electronic devices at least one hour before bed.
  • Setting time aside before bed for relaxing, including enjoyable activities like reading or meditation.
  • Turning down lights beginning one to two hours before bedtime and following the cycle of the sun.
  • Maintaining a regular and consistent bedtime and morning wake-up schedule.
  • Taking in natural sunlight for at least 15 minutes each day.

When to seek a healthcare professional

If you continuously experience sleep challenges, nightmares, or unsettled sleep, there may be other physiological issues to address. Talk to your doctor, who may recommend a sleep study to detect possible physical issues. If no physical causes are found, talking to a sleep psychologist can be helpful to learn cognitive therapy techniques for addressing issues that may be disrupting your sleep.

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