Melatonin for Sleep – Is Melatonin Safe?
Many of us struggle to get a good night’s sleep.
In the U.S., nearly 9 million adults take prescription sleep medications1, while many more use over-the-counter sleeping pills like diphenhydramine and doxylamine.
Melatonin, often considered to be a “natural” sleep aid, is used by 3.1 million Americans to sleep better.2 But, what is melatonin and is melatonin safe?
What is Melatonin?
Melatonin is a hormone that is naturally produced by the body’s pineal gland, which is a small endocrine gland found near the center of the brain.
In the body, melatonin helps regulate the sleep-wake cycle.
While often thought of as a natural substance, most melatonin found in over-the-counter medications is synthetically derived. Synthetically derived melatonin, however, is considered much safer than melatonin derived from mammalian pineal glands due to the potential transmission of viruses through these animal products.3
Therefore, we would not consider melatonin medications to be “all-natural.” Yet, this does not mean that it is bad, nor should it dissuade you from taking melatonin.
Melatonin for Sleep. How Does Melatonin Work?
Melatonin reacts on melatonin receptor 1A and 1B. Receptor 1A is primarily localized in the brain, while 1B receptors are found in the brain, eyes, and even in bones where they regulate bone formation.4
Melatonin exhibits daily and seasonal patterns of secretion that correspond with natural light and dark cycles. In humans, the nighttime production of melatonin is heavily driven by our internal circadian clock.5
For healthy individuals, melatonin production increases in the evening. This increase in melatonin primes our body for sleep. Melatonin secretion, however, can be decreased or shifted, which can cause difficulty falling asleep.
We’ve all heard that a healthy adult needs 7 to 9 hours of sleep6 and our body will try it’s hardest to get those hours, regardless of when you actually fall asleep and when your alarm is set for.
Unsurprisingly, a study by Burch et al. found that night-shift workers have altered melatonin levels, experience disrupted sleep, and have elevated symptoms of fatigue and decreased mental acuity.7 Additionally, night work is associated with an increase in accidents and even chronic disease.8
But, you don’t have to be a night-shift worker to experience altered melatonin levels and the effects of poor sleep. It has been shown that bright artificial light suppresses nocturnal secretion of melatonin9, with blue light having the largest effect.10
And what emits lots of blue light? The very screen you’re looking at right now.
TVs, laptops, tablets, and smartphones emit blue light, which suppresses the evening rise in melatonin and causes you to feel more alert.11 This happens because of photopigments in the eyes which impact the body’s secretion of melatonin.12
So, one of the best things you can do to fall asleep faster is to limit screen time before bed. Rather than falling asleep to the newest Netflix special, read a good old fashioned book (not one off a tablet or kindle with an LCD screen).
Restoring Your Sleep Patterns with Melatonin
But, even if you avoid screens and establish healthy evening routines to help you sleep better, you may still need help resetting your body’s internal clock. This is where melatonin can help.
In a 1991 paper by Dhlitz et al, the researchers concluded that “melatonin may act as a phase-setter for sleep-wake cycles in subjects with a delayed sleep-phase syndrome.”13 As the name suggest, delayed sleep-phase syndrome is the condition in which an individual is unable to go to sleep at a normal time, characterized by a shift in sleep time by two or more hours beyond what is considered a conventional bedtime.14
In addition to having difficulty falling asleep, people with delayed sleep-phase syndrome also have difficulty waking up at a normal time, thus affecting their daytime functioning.
As I said, the body really wants those 7 to 9 hours of sleep.
Research by Lack et al. determined that for reestablishing a normal circadian rhythm and sleep-wake cycle, “the recommendation is a schedule of incremental advances of wake-up time and morning bright light as well as low-dose evening melatonin administration.”15 This translates to slowly and purposefully shifting your sleep schedule back with the use of melatonin in the evening and using light in the morning as a trigger to wake you up and keep you up.
Furthermore, research by Dr. van Geijlswijk in the journal Sleep found that taking a melatonin supplement (exogenous melatonin) is an effective way to advance sleep-wake rhythm and helps reestablish the body’s natural melatonin rhythm (endogenous melatonin) in delayed sleep-phase syndrome.16
Other Potential Benefits of Melatonin
Rarely does a chemical produced naturally by our bodies serve only one function. Melatonin is no exception and has been found to have numerous important biological functions.
In their aptly named journal article, researchers Koziróg et al. determined that the use of melatonin can improve the blood pressure, lipid profile, and parameters of oxidative stress in people with metabolic syndrome17, which can lead to a reduced risk for heart attack and stroke.
Additionally, melatonin acts as a free radical scavenger and is protective against numerous processes that cause tissue damage.18
Other potential benefits of melatonin that have been studied include:
- Improving sleep disorders in individuals with schizophrenia and reducing the side effects of antipsychotic medications.19
- As a treatment for breast cancer prevention in addition to a possible treatment of the side effects associated with chemotherapy.20
- A preventative for cluster headaches, especially for people who cannot tolerate other drugs.21
- Protective effects of melatonin against cardiac diseases induced by oxidative stress.22
- As an pain reliever. The repeated administration of melatonin can improve sleep and thereby potentially reducing anxiety, which can lead to lower levels of pain.23
- As a way to control stress and stress-related infectious diseases.24
- As an anti-inflammatory.25
Is Melatonin Safe?
Melatonin can help you sleep, but is it safe?
Side effects of melatonin can include drowsiness, headache, dizziness, nausea. From personal experience, we have noticed that you need to devote the time for a full night’s sleep when taking melatonin, otherwise you’ll wake up feeling groggy.
Additionally, as with any supplement, we advise speaking with your primary care physician about adding melatonin to your regimen. You should especially talk to your physician about taking melatonin if you are pregnant, suffer from a bleeding disorder, have diabetes, have a seizure disorder, or are taking prescription drugs. We’re looking out for your best interest!
Some of us at Louisville CBD Company are trained scientist, but we are not doctors. So, like everyone else, we’ll defer to WebMD which says melatonin is likely safe for most adults in the short term and possibly safe when taken long-term (for years).26
And, while we use melatonin, we don’t advise using melatonin to go to sleep every night longterm. Melatonin should be used to reset your sleep schedule while also developing healthy sleep habits. A pill, even ours, should never be used in the place of proper diet, exercise, and healthy habits.
If you are interested in trying melatonin to reset your sleep cycle, we recommend our CBD softgel with melatonin. This product combines the relaxing properties of CBD with 1 mg of melatonin and 1 mg of chamomile per softgel for a better night’s sleep. Start by taking 1 pill, on an evening where you can have a full night’s sleep and adjust your dosage upwards to 2 or 3 pills if needed.
We’re here to help you succeed and that starts with a good night’s sleep.
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- Chong, Yinong, Cheryl D. Fryer, and Qiuping Gu. “Prescription sleep aid use among adults: United States, 2005-2010.” NCHS data brief 127 (2013): 1-8.
- Most Used Natural Products. National Institute of Health. https://nccih.nih.gov/research/statistics/NHIS/2012/natural-products/melatonin
- Altun, Armagan, and B. Ugur‐Altun. “Melatonin: therapeutic and clinical utilization.” International journal of clinical practice61.5 (2007): 835-845.
- Sharan, Kunal, et al. “Regulation of bone mass through pineal‐derived melatonin‐MT 2 receptor pathway.” Journal of pineal research 63.2 (2017): e12423.
- Simonneaux, Valerie, and Christophe Ribelayga. “Generation of the melatonin endocrine message in mammals: a review of the complex regulation of melatonin synthesis by norepinephrine, peptides, and other pineal transmitters.” Pharmacological reviews 55.2 (2003): 325-395.
- National Sleep Foundation Recommends New Sleep Times. Accessed at https://www.sleepfoundation.org/press-release/national-sleep-foundation-recommends-new-sleep-times
- Burch, James B., et al. “Melatonin, sleep, and shift work adaptation.” Journal of occupational and environmental medicine 47.9 (2005): 893-901.
- Ramin, Cody, et al. “Night shift work at specific age ranges and chronic disease risk factors.” Occup Environ Med (2014): oemed-2014.
- Lewy, Alfred J., et al. “Light suppresses melatonin secretion in humans.” Science 210.4475 (1980): 1267-1269.
- West, Kathleen E., et al. “Blue light from light-emitting diodes elicits a dose-dependent suppression of melatonin in humans.” Journal of applied physiology 110.3 (2010): 619-626.
- Cajochen, Christian, et al. “Evening exposure to a light-emitting diodes (LED)-backlit computer screen affects circadian physiology and cognitive performance.” Journal of Applied Physiology 110.5 (2011): 1432-1438.
- Brainard, George C., et al. “Action spectrum for melatonin regulation in humans: evidence for a novel circadian photoreceptor.” Journal of Neuroscience 21.16 (2001): 6405-6412.
- Dahlitz, M., et al. “Delayed sleep phase syndrome response to melatonin.” The Lancet 337.8750 (1991): 1121-1124.
- Cleveland Clinic. Accessed at https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/14295-delayed-sleep-phase-syndrome-dsps
- Lack, Leon C., Helen R. Wright, and Richard R. Bootzin. “Delayed sleep-phase disorder.” Sleep Medicine Clinics 4.2 (2009): 229-239.
- van Geijlswijk, Ingeborg M., Hubert PLM Korzilius, and Marcel G. Smits. “The use of exogenous melatonin in delayed sleep phase disorder: a meta-analysis.” Sleep 33.12 (2010): 1605-1614.
- Koziróg, Marzena, et al. “Melatonin treatment improves blood pressure, lipid profile, and parameters of oxidative stress in patients with metabolic syndrome.” Journal of pineal research50.3 (2011): 261-266.
- Reiter, Russel J., et al. “Actions of melatonin in the reduction of oxidative stress.” Journal of biomedical science 7.6 (2000): 444-458.
- Anderson, George, and Michael Maes. “Melatonin: an overlooked factor in schizophrenia and in the inhibition of anti-psychotic side effects.” Metabolic brain disease 27.2 (2012): 113-119.
- Sanchez-Barcelo, Emilio J., et al. “Melatonin uses in oncology: breast cancer prevention and reduction of the side effects of chemotherapy and radiation.” Expert opinion on investigational drugs 21.6 (2012): 819-831.
- Leone, M., et al. “Melatonin versus placebo in the prophylaxis of cluster headache: a double‐blind pilot study with parallel groups.” Cephalalgia 16.7 (1996): 494-496.
- Tengattini, Sandra, et al. “Cardiovascular diseases: protective effects of melatonin.” Journal of pineal research 44.1 (2008): 16-25.
- Wilhelmsen, Michael, et al. “Analgesic effects of melatonin: a review of current evidence from experimental and clinical studies.” Journal of pineal research 51.3 (2011): 270-277.
- Pierpaoli, Walter, and Georges JM Maestroni. “Melatonin: a principal neuroimmunoregulatory and anti-stress hormone: its anti-aging effects.” Immunology Letters 16.3-4 (1987): 355-361.
- Mayo, Juan C., et al. “Anti-inflammatory actions of melatonin and its metabolites, N1-acetyl-N2-formyl-5-methoxykynuramine (AFMK) and N1-acetyl-5-methoxykynuramine (AMK), in macrophages.” Journal of neuroimmunology 165.1-2 (2005): 139-149.
- WebMD. Accessed at https://www.webmd.com/vitamins/ai/ingredientmono-940/melatonin