Is It Bad to Take Melatonin Every Night? Are There Risks?
Euphoria, weight loss, and even improved memory all can come with melatonin. However, its claim to fame isn’t its ability to sedate the body, but rather its ability to reduce the amount of melatonin secreted in the body.
Melatonin is a chemical already in our bodies, in all of the tissues. It makes them calm down—it’s considered one of the leading neurotransmitters, which is how all the chemicals in our brain talk to each other. So melatonin has well-established protective properties, says Dr. Jennifer Clark, a physician specializing in dermatology and co-director of the Soft Cell Dermatology Center in Washington, D.C.
If a person gets an adequate amount of melatonin, then “the body produces less of the hormone that causes restlessness and stress—creates anxiety and tension,” says Dr. Clark. That means it can help protect the body from problems such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity, headaches, irritability, and insomnia.
Most women need one night a week to get the most of the hormone. A 2013 study in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism found that the vitamin can boost hormones in those whose levels are low. So why do people take melatonin in the form of a supplement?
Though the body can produce melatonin in the late morning and early afternoon, the amount varies greatly. A 1999 National Academy of Medicine study found that taking a supplement in the afternoon without food would cause 35-44 percent less melatonin to be released. The study also noted that people who take melatonin supplements but don’t eat a lot of melatonin eat about 10 percent less of a variety of foods.
Most people cannot take the proper amounts of the vitamin. For those who cannot take higher doses, taking it within 30 minutes of bedtime can keep the body from producing much melatonin, says Dr. Clark. Those who don’t want to take melatonin and can’t safely produce much of it are advised to take melatonin supplements alone.
Currently, the Food and Drug Administration says the only way to determine a person’s levels of melatonin deficiency is to take melatonin with food. Before you decide to take the supplement, check with your doctor. If your levels are low, finding a prescription is often the best thing to do.
An estimated 20 percent of women experience insufficient melatonin secretion at night, and that can be caused by several factors: using an artificial light before bed, exercising too much, not getting enough sleep, taking hormone supplements, low vitamin D, and infection.
If you experience sleep disturbances, sleeping in a warm room at night, or night sweats or telltale signs of low melatonin, a doctor can prescribe the necessary supplement or melatonin tablets. Some women may be diagnosed with hypothyroidism, but tests to diagnose the condition are in their beginning stages, and it is not clear if these symptoms are caused by the vitamin, an underlying disease, or both.
“Nowadays, there are even more options out there,” says Dr. Clark. The number of melatonin products has grown from 3 to 400 products, and just in the past few years several companies have taken it beyond the pill. For instance, Vitae offers a CD/DVD, which combines melatonin supplements, psyllium husk, and sleep aids, but also contains a sleep recovery program.
If you already have plans to take melatonin nightly, be sure to consult with your doctor about whether the supplements might affect your pregnancy. Often, they can increase the risk of miscarriage, since melatonin promotes implantation of eggs.