Melatonin is Promoted for Many Health Benefits but What, if Any, Are the Side Effects?

Melatonin is a hormone that is widely touted as a sleep aid, with major impact on Circadian rhythm.

The part of the human brain that affects the sleep/wake cycle, called the Circadian rhythm, does seem to be affected by melatonin and there are individuals that do swear by this natural hormone.  Most individuals do secrete the hormone on their own, and quite enough of it to produce restful sleep.  Others, especially those with chronic insomnia may need melatonin supplements.  The production of melatonin increases as darkness increases therefore the levels are generally higher at night for most individuals.  Others that work night shifts or shifts of different times may not produce enough melatonin to sleep during the day and may benefit from a supplement.  Other individuals might simply not produce enough but deficiencies are rare.  Melatonin can come in many forms, pills, capsules, powders, and even chewable gummies. It comes in both synthetic and natural forms and the cost is generally cheaper in the synthetic forms of melatonin. 

It is available at most retail stores, grocery stores and pharmacies and can be ordered online.

It has become increasingly popular in gummy form and as an additive to over the counter pain medications, alleviating pain while producing a longer and quicker sleep period in these pain/sleep combinations.  Many of these are in liquid form.  It is said to be safe for children, adults, and even pregnant women, however, any kind of supplement should be discussed with a physician first if comorbidities exist or children are given the supplement.  Dosages can vary and there are allergic reactions to melatonin reported by some individuals.  Dosage should be started at the lowest dose possible and any pharmacist can suggest which dose to purchase initially.  More than one gummy can be chewed at once and most pharmacists and consumers do prefer the use of the gummies for both dose control and convenience.  Some individuals use it only intermittently, such as when traveling as it can help with jet lag.  Big Box stores such as CVS, Walmart, RiteAid, and other places usually carry this hormone supplement.  Listings online exist for it. 

Stephen J., of New York City, who had trouble sleeping because of an ongoing divorce, stated:

The benefits for me were tremendous. After months of tossing and turning, I chewed just one melatonin gummy before bedtime, fell asleep immediately, and slept a full nine hours straight. I swear by it now and chew one gummy each night right before going to sleep. I will keep using this product as long as I can purchase it and it is available! I limit the usage though to my stress-filled days.

It is still not recommended for everyone.  The medical warnings against using melatonin include:

Diabetes, depression, bleeding disorders such as hemophilia, taking blood thinners, blood pressure issues, seizure disorders, autoimmune conditions, the use of alcohol or other sedatives or tranquilizers, or those who are using medications to help maintain an organ transplant.  Commercials abound everywhere touting melatonin, but of course, it cannot be taken that lightly.  While it is generally used to induce sleep in some individuals it does quite the opposite, with excitability and overactivity being presented.  Those suffering from depression also can see serious side effects, especially if the depression is not apparent and not diagnosed.  Because it is not classified as a drug, it can be combined with other vitamins or nutrients and sold over the counter.  There is quite a diversity in types of combinations, but Vitamin C and melatonin are popular.  Consumers can pick their choice of combinations.  Sales of melatonin are quite large because of its seeming ability to conquer insomnia.

There is a variety of flavors available too that will appeal to toddlers and children.

Studies do not contain a lot of information about the use in babies and melatonin for children is not recommended before a doctor is consulted.  While side effects are rare, caution, especially in children, is proposed by the medical establishment.  There are many pharmaceutical companies out there now pushing melatonin for children in the shape of bears and other types of creatures to sell this product.  However, most children do not need assistance in sleeping or the adjustment of Circadian rhythms.  The adversity most physicians have towards giving children melatonin is that it goes beyond changing the sleep/wake cycle.  It can have effects on some patterns of growth in children as well as sexual maturity.  It stays in the body sometimes longer than expected and can also leave a child groggy when awake.  Although many parents will use this hormone based on effectiveness touted online and on television commercials by companies, the Mayo Clinic does not recommend it for children or teenagers.  Add to the fact that additives are used in the production as binders and fillers, the Mayo Clinic study really suggests withholding the use of melatonin in any form for any age child. 

Some adults find side effects bothersome too, and those with depression or anxiety should not use it.

While it is recommended many times for seniors, since age decreases melatonin production, aging itself can lead to depression or anxiety.  While most individuals with depression are helped with melatonin, it can increase depression in others.  Those with anxiety should definitely think twice about using it, as it has been shown to increase anxiety.   It is not addictive in the true sense of the word, as there are no physical withdrawal symptoms.  However, when taken all the time, it can induce psychological dependence when an individual starts believing they will not sleep without it.  While not physically addictive as some prescription sedatives, there is a psychological dependence that can be developed.  Medical professionals still advise that melatonin should not be used every night, but only for intermittent periods, like stressful days, jet lag, and shift differentials during one’s employment. 

Klara R., who is a police officer in Philadelphia, PA, suffered from PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) and had trouble sleeping. She took melatonin one time and states, “I not only did not sleep it took me longer to fall asleep. I experienced lethargy but no sleep and my mind raced. I was anxious the whole next day and during the night I experienced severe nightmares that seemed so real each time I briefly slept. I would never use melatonin again and recommend that others think long and hard before using it if they have a pre-existing condition or any type of mental or emotional problem. It did not help me but made my PTSD and sleep disorder worse!

New uses for melatonin are being discovered because of its antioxidant properties.  

Antioxidants prevent damage from free radicals.  Free radicals cause many serious health issues. Cancer, heart disease, and other autoimmune disorders can be caused or exacerbated by too many free radicals that are invading the body.  Free radicals are released by oxygen and while oxygenation of course is a good thing, it is a double-edged sword as it does release the free radicals.  Free radicals are a contributor to the aging process and disease progression and can be a factor in as many as over fifty diseases.  Control of free radicals has been linked to the use of melatonin but much research in this area is still needed and there are no conclusive studies yet.  Taking melatonin in the hopes of reducing free radicals is on the upsurge in consumer usage, however, based on the studies, doctors really do not recommend it unless there is an ongoing battle with a disease such as cancer which cannot be controlled.  Then the benefits outweigh the risks, and it can be recommended.

It is up to individuals to assess how much benefit and risk from melatonin usage is tolerable.

Melatonin will always remain popular regardless, and it has been in use for over a decade.  The most popular form seems to be the gummies as they are quick and easy to take, and not overly costly.  They do have an expiration date however and can become hard and dry, and lose effectiveness if not used within a certain amount of time.  As with all supplements and medications following usage instructions, avoiding overuse, and ensuring a fresh supply exists will lead to a better experience with melatonin.  The gummies for the most part can have a shorter shelf life, just like other gummy supplements, so this must be taken into consideration when choosing what brand and how much to purchase.  Usages vary but stale supplements of any type should be avoided. 

When in doubt about any supplements, as mentioned before, consult a physician for advice.

There is a rather disturbing trend in the world today that exists where many individuals believe herbal and natural supplements will always be safe for anyone and the more that is taken, the better the results.  This is not so, and caution should always rule! While useful in moderation for many individuals, melatonin is not a cure all for sleep or other problems, and any time an individual ingests anything, they need to be aware of all possible side effects and potential hazards.  Choose well and choose wisely whenever anything is introduced into your body.