On Your Health

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Signs You're Taking too Much Melatonin

Sales of melatonin have skyrocketed of late – a 2022 study indicated a 150 percent increase from 2016 to 2020, according to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. Between the pandemic and economic upheaval, many people have struggled with their sleep and have turned to medications and supplements in search of rest. 

While supplementing your sleep here and there with a small amount of melatonin is unlikely to result in any negative consequences, just how much is too much when it comes to heavier doses? This blog will explore melatonin’s safety and outline symptoms to be aware of.

How does melatonin work?

Many people view melatonin as a commercial product sold in stores, but it’s actually a naturally occurring hormone produced by your brain’s pineal gland. In short, melatonin plays an important role in your sleep schedule and how your circadian rhythm – the body’s 24-hour clock – is regulated.

During the day, your brain produces serotonin, a neurotransmitter that regulates your mood, appetite, digestion and bone health. When darkness sets in, your brain responds by producing melatonin. This makes you tired and drowsy to send a signal to the rest of your body that it’s time to wind down for the night.

In most cases, the brain produces an adequate amount of melatonin to encourage a good night’s sleep. But for some people, it isn’t enough. To help compensate, these people turn to melatonin supplements.

Melatonin supplements, which you can find at your local store as tablets, liquids, patches, gummies and sprays, are used for three main purposes:

  • To promote sleep
  • To regulate/reset sleep
  • For people with REM sleep behavior disorder

While effective for some, melatonin supplements aren’t a magic pill, especially if you don’t take it at the right time. It doesn’t have sedative qualities to make you sleep, rather, it puts you in a space that promotes sleep. That part is important to know because some people assume melatonin will knock you out. It can help you fall asleep faster, but it won’t have a drastic impact on helping you stay asleep.

Is melatonin safe?

When used properly and sold under an accurate label, melatonin is widely regarded as safe for both adults and children. The key here is when melatonin is used for a short amount of time – examples include resetting a sleep cycle when dealing with jet leg or using it for a week to catch up on sleep. To date, there are few long-term studies about melatonin’s safety.

For example, an analysis of seven trials (387 children and adolescents) found melatonin was “effective and tolerable” to treat insomnia in the short term.

However, there are two key issues to know about melatonin consumption: a lack of oversight and regulation, and a growing concern of unintended melatonin ingestions among children and adolescents. 

Melatonin supplements aren’t regulated

One of the main concerns regarding melatonin’s safety involves its classification as a dietary supplement and not an over-the-counter drug. What’s the difference? Dietary supplements aren’t regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, meaning there is no control over ingredients or if the products are as advertised.

Many companies that sell melatonin have come under fire for mislabeling their supplements, according to a 2017 study published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine. Most of the 31 products tested contained either less melatonin – up to 83 percent less – or significantly more melatonin – up to 478 percent more – than advertised, and about a quarter of the supplements contained serotonin. The presence of serotonin can increase the risk of melatonin poisoning. 

As a consumer, how can you know what you’re buying is accurate? Look for products that feature a United States Pharmacopeial Convention Verified (CPV) label for the most reliable formulation.

Concerns with pediatric ingestions

In the summer of 2022, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention detailed a near decade-long study that showed the number of pediatric melatonin ingestions skyrocketed 530 percent in just nine years – from 8,337 in 2012 to 52,563 in 2021.

The study analyzed more than 260,000 calls to poison control centers. In 2020, melatonin became the most ingested substance among children reported. Further, melatonin ingestions accounted for 4.9 percent of all pediatric ingestions in 2021, a number that dramatically increased from 0.6 percent in 2012. 

To be clear, 84 percent of these ingestions were asymptomatic, but some children were affected. More than 4,500 children experienced symptoms – vomiting and breathing issues – of melatonin poisoning, including five children who needed to be placed on a ventilator and two deaths. In addition, a majority of the cases were of children under the age of 5 who accidentally took melatonin.

Still, there were quite a few hospitalizations among teenagers who intentional took excessive amounts of melatonin 

What happens when you take too much melatonin?

The words “too much melatonin” are a bit subjective here, as there aren’t set guidelines on maximum dosages. Age, physical health and other medications all play a role in how melatonin affects each person.

That said, taking large quantities can cause the following symptoms

  • Agitation
  • Excessive drowsiness
  • Headache
  • High blood pressure
  • Nausea
  • Repeated vomiting
  • Slurred speech

Some people also report feeling drowsy the following day when taking too much melatonin the night before.

Melatonin dose

Unlike over-the-counter and prescription drugs, melatonin doesn’t have a recommended effective dosing. Melatonin supplements sold in stores and online typically fall into the 1 mg to 10 mg range, although doses can be sold as high as 60 mg per pill.

If you’re looking for a place to start, the National Sleep Foundation suggests 0.2 mg to 5 mg for adults. You can also start with 1 mg and increase from there until you find a dose that works for you. Take the medicine 30 minutes to an hour before bed.

Most people won’t need more than a 3 mg dose. There is also some research suggesting high amounts of melatonin can actually cause melatonin receptors in your brain to become unresponsive.

You’ll find some information online suggesting 1 to 3 mg per dose for children. However, you should talk to your pediatrician first if you plan on your child trying melatonin.

Can you overdose on melatonin?

Despite some of the concerns, it remains unlikely that you can overdose on melatonin to the point where it becomes life threatening. 

For starters, melatonin is a fast-acting supplement with a half-life between 20 and 40 minutes, meaning it takes that long for your body to process and eliminate half the dose. Even if you were to take a larger dose, your body has the ability to process it before experiencing severe symptoms.

Aside from that, melatonin doesn’t have an established LD50, a dose of medicine used by medical professionals to determine how lethal a drug is to 50 percent of subjects.

In the event you or a loved one ingest too much melatonin, have an adult monitor the situation by waking up the person every 30 minutes when napping. Call 911 or visit the emergency room if you notice any breathing changes that last several hours.

Ways to get a good night’s sleep without melatonin

For a night or two, melatonin may be a viable stop-gap to boosting your sleep schedule. However, it’s not a permanent solution to sleep disorders or issues.

Instead of relying on supplements or medications, establish a sleep routine throughout the day and before bed. Exercise during the day and set up a good environment at night. That means no computer in bed or hours spent on your phone. Blue light exposure can actually negate the effects of melatonin because it can trick your brain into thinking it’s daytime.

The same goes for your diet. Avoid caffeine late in the day, and you shouldn’t eat or drink near bedtime.

In the event you can’t go to sleep, wait 20 minutes and get out of bed. Then try again.

Consult a primary care physician or a pediatrician if you or your child are interested in taking melatonin to help your nighttime sleep. They can help provide more context on what is a safe dose and weigh in on if melatonin is right for you. Contact us today with any questions you may have!

For more complex sleep issues, visit the INTEGRIS Sleep Disorders Center of Oklahoma. Our board-certified sleep specialists and registered sleep technologists can help you get a better night’s sleep.


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