According to the CDC, about 70 million Americans suffer from sleep problems. Lack of sleep has been linked to issues such as chronic disease, mental illness, poor quality of life and low productivity. There are many sleep aids on the market, such as melatonin supplements, that can be used to treat sleep disorders. If you’re suffering from sleep problems, you may be wondering about melatonin side effects and how the hormone may affect your body.

Melatonin is one of the most commonly used supplements to help with sleep issues. Learn more about the side effects of melatonin and whether it’s safe for long-term use.

What Are Melatonin Side Effects?

Melatonin is a naturally produced hormone that plays a role in sleep. The release of melatonin in the brain is connected to the time of day, with production levels increasing at night. Melatonin supplements are available as an oral capsule or tablet to help with jet lag or reduce the time it takes to fall asleep.

Is melatonin safe to take? Compared to other sleep aids, melatonin is safe for short-term use, but there are some side effects to watch out for. The most common melatonin side effects are:

  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Dizziness
  • Daytime drowsiness

Because melatonin can cause drowsiness, it’s recommended not to drive or operate heavy machinery within 5 hours of consuming it. There are also a few other less common side effects, such as:

  • Short-term feelings of depression
  • Vivid dreams or nightmares
  • Stomach cramps
  • Irritability
  • Mood swings
  • Increased risk of falls or seizures
  • Confusion or disorientation
  • Reduced alertness
  • Decreased appetite
  • Diarrhea or constipation

Is Melatonin Addictive?

Some people worry that repeated use of melatonin can raise your body’s tolerance, requiring a larger dose for the same effect. While this can be a sign of addiction with other substances, you’re unlikely to become physically dependent on melatonin. Unlike with many other sleep medications, melatonin is less likely to create cravings for repeated use or cause a hangover effect the next morning. So, is it bad to take melatonin every night?

The lack of a risk of physical addiction doesn’t mean the supplement is safe to take all the time. An addiction doesn’t necessarily have to involve abusing a chemical substance. Some experts believe that any entity capable of stimulating a person can be addictive. If a seemingly harmless habit starts to feel like an obligation, it may be considered an addiction.

If you find yourself reaching for melatonin most nights, you risk the chance of tricking yourself into thinking you need the supplement to sleep. Without it, you may worry you won’t fall asleep, which can lead to increased anxiety at bedtime.

Are Sleep Aids Safe for Long-Term Use?

Nonprescription sleep aids can be an effective solution for the occasional sleepless night. Melatonin is seen as the safest option and the least likely to have serious long-term physical effects. However, other types of sleep aids may leave you feeling groggy and unwell the next day or lead to a tolerance buildup, meaning the longer you take them, the less likely they are to help you sleep.

There are many over-the-counter sleep aids available for use with varying side effects, such as:

  • Diphenhydramine (Benadryl): Diphenhydramine is an antihistamine with sedative properties. Side effects can include dry mouth, urinary retention, daytime drowsiness and constipation. It’s most commonly used to treat allergies but can also be used for insomnia, nausea and the common cold.
  • Doxylamine (Unisom): Doxylamine is also a sedating antihistamine used to treat insomnia, allergies and the common cold. Side effects are similar to diphenhydramine but can also include blurred vision and decreased coordination.
  • Melatonin: Melatonin is a hormone that helps control your natural sleep-wake cycle. You can purchase melatonin supplements on their own or find the ingredient in a sleeping pill such as Relaxium. Relaxium side effects can include nausea, confusion, uncoordinated movement, muscle spasms or twitching and heart palpitations.
  • Valerian: Valerian is an herb that’s been used medicinally since ancient Rome and Greece. Supplements made from this plant can be used as sleep aids and generally cause mild side effects such as headaches and weakness.

While nonprescription sleep aids can be effective and safe for temporary use, they aren’t intended to be taken long term. Although research is limited, some studies have found a possible link between the daily use of sleep aids and a higher risk of mortality. Depending on the sleep aid, some people may also develop a tolerance or an addiction and experience withdrawal symptoms such as irritability, anxiety or strange dreams if they stop taking it.

On the other hand, many people use sleep aids without developing any problems at all. There are some safety risks associated with melatonin, such as possible allergic reactions or interactions with other drugs. Melatonin is seen as the safest sleep aid, but it’s still recommended to talk to your doctor before taking it.

What Should You Do If You’re Worried About Melatonin Use?

If you’ve been struggling with sleep problems, melatonin may seem like a quick and easy solution. As tempting as this can be, there are some simple lifestyle adjustments you can make to encourage good sleep hygiene instead of reaching for a pill.

  • Develop a regular sleep schedule: Having a consistent bedtime and wake-up time can stabilize your body’s internal clock, making it easier to quickly fall asleep.
  • Prepare yourself for sleep: Avoid consuming alcohol, caffeine and big meals right before bed. All of these can disrupt sleep.
  • Drink tea: Certain teas like chamomile or valerian root can help with sleep and relaxation. Try brewing a warm cup 1-2 hours before bedtime.
  • Create a safe, comfortable space: Keep your sleeping space as dark as possible, at a comfortable temperature and with minimal noise disruptions. This can create a relaxing environment that’s ideal for sleep.

Seek Help for Sleep Disorders

If you or someone you know is struggling with sleep, it could indicate an underlying mental health issue is at play. Contact us today at Sunlight Recovery to learn more about our programs. Our mental health counselors can guide you down the right path to get your health back on track.