Melatonin is a popular over-the-counter remedy for addressing difficulties with falling asleep. Taking melatonin may be helpful in the treatment of some sleep-related challenges-in particular, jetlag. However, there’s less evidence supporting the benefits of melatonin as a long-term sleep aid. Some people who take melatonin experience side effects. One of the most common and challenging side effects of melatonin use is drowsiness in the morning.
What Is Melatonin?
Melatonin is a hormone. It’s produced in the pineal gland, a small endocrine gland located near the center of the brain.
Research hasn’t yet provided a full understanding of melatonin’s roles in the human body. However, it’s known to be a powerful antioxidant. Melatonin also interacts with the immune system and has an anti-inflammatory effect.
Melatonin is best known for its role in sleep-wake-cycle regulation. The body produces melatonin in response to evening darkness. Production peaks in the early morning hours and declines during the daytime.
When melatonin production increases, the hormone acts on certain receptors that signal your body that it’s time to go to sleep. Melatonin doesn’t directly induce a sleep state. The cycling of rising and falling melatonin levels do, however, help us regulate our sleep cycles by sending cues through the body that indicate when it’s time to rest and when it’s time to be awake.
Everyone makes melatonin naturally, but lab-made supplements are available to provide an extra boost as a sleep aid. Melatonin is considered most effective for short-term use. Taken over short time periods, melatonin can help a person reset their sleep cycle when it has become disturbed. Supplementing with melatonin is especially useful to combat jetlag, by helping your body tune in to a new sleep schedule in a new time zone.
Melatonin is most often recommended for adults aged 55 years or older. Use typically lasts for a period of weeks. However, some younger adults choose to take melatonin, and some people choose to take it for longer periods of time.
You shouldn’t take melatonin if one of the following applies:
- You’re pregnant or breastfeeding
- You have an autoimmune disorder
- You have a seizure disorder
If taken in accordance with product label instructions, melatonin use is considered safe for most people, although some side effects may occur.
Melatonin and Drowsy Side Effects
The most common side effects of melatonin use include:
Drowsiness from a sleep aid isn’t necessarily a bad thing if the effect is well-timed and doesn’t drag on. With melatonin, drowsiness is sometimes felt most strongly in the morning, making it difficult to wake up.
The drowsy effects might be quite strong, making you want to spend more time sleeping or resting in bed than you would normally need. If morning drowsiness interferes with your daily routine, this can negate some of the benefits that melatonin provides in helping you fall asleep at night.
Mixing melatonin with other medications and supplements that affect sleep can worsen drowsiness effects. Taking melatonin at the wrong time, such as a time other than bedtime, can also induce drowsiness while throwing off your body’s internal clock and circadian rhythms.
Alternatives to Melatonin
For severe or chronic insomnia, prescription medication is sometimes used. Options include antidepressants such as Trazodone and sedatives such as Ambien.
Prescription medication is generally viewed as an insomnia treatment option after other non-medication methods have failed.
Prescription sleeping medications can have severe side effects. For example, Ambien has been known to cause intense cognitive and psychological effects that can result in unpredictable and dangerous behavior. Prescription medication for sleep should never be consumed without guidance from a physician.
For treatment of sleep problems that aren’t severe or chronic, there are numerous lifestyle adjustments and over-the-counter remedies.
Exercise, meditation, limiting consumption of caffeine and alcohol, and maintaining a regular schedule are all proven strategies for regulating sleep cycles.
If you’d like to try a natural sleep aid other than melatonin, options include:
- Valerian root
The supplements listed above are not medications and have limited power, but they’re all associated with better sleep.
If melatonin is your sleep aid of choice, consider limiting its use for best results. Melatonin is best viewed as a short-term solution to help reset your natural rhythms, rather than a long-term lifestyle supplement.