How Safe Are Melatonin Pills?

Melatonin supplements are one of the most widely used neurologically reactive pills on the market today.

In 2012, 3.1 million Americans had taken melatonin at some point in the past year, or 1.3% of this country’s entire population.

But does this chemical deserve the kind of attention it’s received?

Is it safe for so many people to be using melatonin?

What about in the long-term?

In this article, we take a dive into the science and safety of one of America’s favorite drugs.

Image: Synaptic network in the brain

What Is Melatonin?

Melatonin is a naturally-occurring hormone in your body secreted by your brain’s pineal gland.

At any given time, you’re always going to have some quantity of it in your bloodstream.

From the time you wake up until sometime in the evening, your melatonin levels are typically at a fairly constant, low level.

As it starts getting dark and your body starts getting ready for sleep, melatonin levels start to rise, climbing up to a peak in the middle of the night before gradually falling back down until the morning.

Melatonin has been linked to feelings of drowsiness, and many people find it especially helpful in combatting the effects of jetlag or when doing shift work.

It is also used by many suffering from insomnia – however, there has been no conclusive research as to how effective this might prove.

Melatonin Supplement or Drug?

Because melatonin occurs naturally inside your body, and it actually is possible to be deficient in this vitamin, the FDA classifies melatonin pills as “dietary supplements,” rather than drugs.

In some ways, this is good for consumers, since it means you don’t have to work around any medical red tape in order to get to your pills.

While some people do opt for melatonin prescriptions, it’s super easy to just drop by your local drug store and pick up a bottle.

The stuff is relatively cheap, and you don’t need any kind of ID to buy it.

The downside to this availability, however, is that melatonin pills don’t have to pass through any of the rigorous testing drugs do before they hit the market.

There are a lot of things we simply do not know about how and why melatonin works, and research on potential side effects is scattered.

Image: person pours out pills into their palm

Can You Overdose on Melatonin Pills?

If you swing by your local pharmacy to pick up a bottle of melatonin, you’re probably going to end up with a dosage somewhere between 1 and 10 milligrams in melatonin pills.

Be careful, here!

For healthy adults, the National Sleep Foundation recommends taking between only two-tenths of a milligram and five milligrams.

What will happen if you take too much?

Well, the good news is, it’s not going to kill you.

There have been zero reported cases of melatonin toxicity or deadly overdose, so that’s not something you really have to worry about.

That said, no matter how much you need to get to sleep tonight, you probably still shouldn’t just down the whole bottle and hope for the best.

However, there are some common side effects you might face from taking a ridiculous amount of the stuff, including…

  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Short-term feelings of depression
  • Next-day sleepiness
  • Upset stomach
  • Joint pain
  • Anxiety
  • Nightmares

Some folks have even reported increased wakefulness after taking too many melatonin supplements, so watch yourself!

However, keep in mind that most people aren’t going to experience any of these symptoms after taking a responsible amount of melatonin pills.

Are Melatonin Supplements Addictive?

There are currently no documented cases of any kind of any melatonin-related addictions or dependencies.

Studies have found no adverse effects in individuals taking melatonin for up to two years, and there is no direct evidence to suggest that it may be in any way harmful to most people, either in the short term or the long term.

This is actually pretty strange when you consider the way melatonin works.

Most drugs become less and less effective over time as your body acclimates to them until you end up developing dependencies and needing to take more to produce the exact same effects.

As far as we know right now, however, this is not the case with melatonin.

Melatonin receptors, in general, do tend to calcify with age, which is why older people often tend to have more trouble sleeping.

However, taking melatonin in pill form has not been linked to any kind of ill effects.

Who SHOULDN’T Be Taking Melatonin Pills?

Although melatonin is safe for most people, there are many people that should not be taking it.

If you are an expectant mother, for instance, melatonin is possibly unsafe and should not be taken either orally or intravenously.

It may also interfere with ovulation, so you’ll likely want to steer clear of it if you’re trying to become pregnant, as well.

You also shouldn’t be taking melatonin if you’re also on any other sleep medications, and it’s also a bad idea to take it with alcohol.

Other people who may wish to avoid melatonin include those with diabetes, those taking blood pressure medications, transplant recipients, and those suffering from seizure disorders or depression.

It’s also probably not too smart to take melatonin during the day in general, especially if you’re going to be driving or operating any heavy machinery.

Image: insomniac woman sitting up in bed, knees tucked up to her chestWill Melatonin Cure My Insomnia?

Although some people may find melatonin a helpful tool in combatting insomnia, melatonin is not a silver bullet.

There is contradictory evidence concerning melatonin’s influence on those with melatonin.

Some studies have found that it does indeed decrease the amount of time it takes insomniacs to get to sleep, but other studies have found it works no better than a placebo. 

Bottom line, you can’t really expect taking a melatonin pill each night to magically make your insomnia go away. 

There are a lot of factors that play into sleeplessness, and most people are not suffering from melatonin deficiencies.

How to Naturally Regulate Melatonin Levels

Keep in mind, melatonin is naturally produced by your body, where it gradually builds up over a period of several hours before reaching its peak sometime in the middle of the night.

Melatonin pills don’t work like this.

They just shock your body with a dose many, many times greater than the amount that would ever naturally occur in your body, which is what lets them product such intense feelings of drowsiness.

If you’re not super comfortable with this idea and are looking for a less chemically-based way to go about upping your melatonin levels, there are a couple different ways to go about doing that.

Avoid Artificial Light at Night

The most effective way to do this is, unfortunately, also probably the most difficult: avoiding artificial light during the nighttime.

Light is what lets your body know it’s time to power down for bed.

For most of human history, people went to bed shortly after sunset, and they got up sometime around sunrise.

Because of this, your body’s melatonin production is closely linked to your expose to light.

If you’re sitting under bright lights all evening before heading off to bed, you’re confusing your poor brain, and it’s probably not giving your body the kind of melatonin levels it needs.

The blue lights of electronics in particular are especially harmful, so avoid doing too much on your phone or computer at night!

Some Foods Contain Melatonin

In addition to avoiding the wrong kinds of light, you can also try increasing your melatonin levels by eating certain kinds of food.

Tart cherry juice has been found to induce some feelings of sleepiness, and things like almonds, pineapples, and Goji berries all have significant amounts of melatonin.

To read more about how to get your body ready for bed, check out our full article here.

Image: Woman holding a cup of tea looks out through her windows at the early morningAlternatives to Melatonin Supplementation

If you’re having a lot of trouble getting to sleep at night, however, there’s a good chance that melatonin isn’t your real issue.

There is a whole slew of factors that can go into creating a poor-quality sleep environment, which inevitably leads to decreased performance in just about every area of your life.

A lot of the time, these factors aren’t really things we have too much control over.

Maybe you’re going through a stressful time in your life right now, maybe you’re having to pull long hours to get through the week, etc., etc.

One thing you do have control over when it comes to your sleep, however, is the quality of your mattress.

If you find yourself tossing and turning a lot at night trying to get comfortable on your bed, there’s a good chance you’re either sleeping on the wrong kind of mattress, or your mattress is a little past its prime.

A lot of people tend to put off buying a new mattress for longer than they should because of how difficult it is to find a decent product within a reasonable price range.

If it’s something you’ve been thinking about, I’d encourage you to check out our free guide to the top mattresses on the market today.

These things make the buying process easy – providing truly top-quality sleep experiences for surprisingly affordable prices.

Two of our absolute favorites include the Saatva and the Nectar!

Conclusion About the Safety of Melatonin Pills

Regardless of what you end up doing, we wish you the best of luck in working out your sleep schedule.

There are few things in this life as important as working out your sleep.

Always remember to take care of your body, and to make sleep a real priority.

Be good to your body, and your body will be good to you!