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Melatonin: Know the risks and benefits of the sleep supplement

March 21, 2019
Melatonin: Know the risks and benefits of the sleep supplement

Many people take melatonin to help them sleep -- but, for some, the supplement can make the morning struggle even worse.

Melatonin is called the “hormone of darkness,” because our bodies produce it naturally at bedtime. But supplements that contain extra melatonin come with risks.

Taking more than what your body produces can cause you to be sleepy and mentally or physically slow the next day.

“You should never take a dose of melatonin that’s more than 10 mg,” said Lauren Friedman, a health editor with Consumer Reports. “And you should actually consider starting, if you want to try melatonin, at only about 0.2 to 0.5 mg.”

It’s also important to check the labels on the bottles for quality and potency. Logos from Consumer Lab, NSF International, USP or UL provide some peace of mind that a product contains what’s on the label, according to Consumer Reports.

Melatonin can interact with blood pressure and diabetes medications, so be sure you check with your doctor before starting it. Users should also be aware of possible side effects.

“You can’t just assume it’s safe,” Friedman said. “It’s not regulated in the same way as prescription and over-the-counter drugs. Some people report dizziness or nausea, or they say they’re drowsy the next day.”

For that reason, experts say you shouldn’t drive the morning after using melatonin.

After all risks are considered, melatonin can help some people with certain conditions.

“[Melatonin can help] if you’re jet-lagged, if you have to work a night shift or if you’re getting older,” Friedman said. “For people who are 70 or older, your body might not produce enough melatonin on its own.”

Studies showed that using melatonin for three months or less is probably OK, but there’s not enough research to know whether long-term use is safe.