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Can You Become Addicted To Melatonin?

An image of melatonin tabletsSleep is an important part of life. In your lifetime, you will spend around a third of it sleeping or trying to sleep. It is an important aspect of maintaining your health and wellness. But while sleep may come naturally for some, it may be a challenge for others. There is a wide range of supplements in the market that can help to assist with sleep and one of these is melatonin. This supplement is becoming increasingly popular to aid in sleep. However, there are concerns that one can become addicted to melatonin. This article will explore what melatonin is and if you can become addicted to melatonin.

What Is Melatonin?

Melatonin is a hormone that your body naturally produces. It plays a role in calming your body and promoting sleep. Due to this, melatonin also goes by the name of the "sleep hormone".

Your pineal gland is responsible for producing melatonin and will produce it at different times of the day. During the day and in response to light, the production slows down, and at night when the light reduces, the production increases.

Whilst the main function of melatonin is to assist you in getting your zzz's, it also has additional roles in the body such as:

  • Reducing inflammation
  • Acts as an antioxidant
  • Regulating:
    • blood pressure
    • immune system
    • body temperature

Can Melatonin Become Low?

Whilst your body does produce melatonin, there are factors that can reduce the production of melatonin. These include:

  • Disrupted cycles of light and darkness
  • Age
  • Stress
  • Being overweight
  • Conditions such as diabetes and dementia

There are also individuals who may be more susceptible to some of these factors, putting them at risk for a reduction in melatonin production and disruptions in their sleep. These people include:

  • Blind individuals
  • Shift workers
  • Individuals experiencing jet lag
  • Individuals with conditions such as diabetes and dementia

How Do Melatonin Supplements Work?

Melatonin supplements are available in many different forms such as liquids and capsules. These supplements provide your body with additional melatonin and, theoretically, can assist in helping to promote sleep.

Studies suggest that supplemental melatonin can help you fall asleep faster and for longer. However, other studies found that supplemental melatonin was no more effective than the placebo.

Side Effects of Melatonin Supplements

The main effect of this supplement is sleepiness. However, side effects can occur. They are not common and are more common if a higher dose of melatonin is taken. Side effects include:

  • temporary feelings of depression
  • stomach cramps
  • low blood pressure
  • nausea
  • headache
  • irritability

Can You Become Addicted To Melatonin?

There is conflicting research on whether or not you can become addicted to melatonin. Since your body naturally produces melatonin, studies suggest that you don't build up a tolerance to it. This means that you won't need to increase the dosage of it to get the same effects. Other experts, however, believe that supplementing with melatonin could result in your body reducing its production of melatonin.

Studies have tested this theory. In one study, melatonin production did not decrease during supplementation; however, this study was focused on the short-term use of melatonin. More research is necessary to determine if this occurs long-term. Another study suggests that for individuals who are more vulnerable, such as those with psychiatric conditions, withdrawing from melatonin can cause a shift in the sleep-wake cycle. This can result in requiring melatonin to activate the sleep cycle.

Whilst there is no evidence that you can become addicted to melatonin, it is easy to rely on melatonin. For many individuals with sleep conditions, nighttime is the start of anxiety and uncertainty about whether or not sleep will occur. Melatonin provides relief for these individuals and eases anxiety. Whilst this can be beneficial it can make it difficult to stop taking melatonin, and these individuals generally experience anxiety if the supplement is stopped. In these individuals, getting support from a healthcare provider can help to reduce reliance on melatonin.

How To Take Melatonin Safely

An image of someone taking a tablet of melatoninThere is a range of common melatonin dosages in supplements. However, common dosages range from 0.2 to 5mg. Some supplements contain a higher dosage; however, dosages from as little as 0.5mg have shown to be effective. To get the desired results from melatonin, take the supplement 30 minutes to two hours before you plan to go to sleep.

When starting this supplement, you can try to take it once to twice a week and see if it does assist in sleeping. This supplement is recommended to be used for one to four weeks. While you can use it long term, there is not enough evidence to determine whether it is safe or not.

If you do decide to take a melatonin supplement, getting guidance from your healthcare provider can assist you in choosing a melatonin supplement that will support your body.

How To Avoid Becoming Addicted To Melatonin

Whilst there is conflicting evidence regarding whether you can become addicted to melatonin, reliance on this supplement can occur, and it can become difficult to stop using the supplement. Fortunately, there are a few steps you can take to enhance your sleep without using melatonin, and these can help you avoid or reduce reliance on it.

Practice Good Sleep Hygiene

This is important for everyone as it can assist to enhance your sleep quality and quantity. The pillars of sleep hygiene are:

  • Practice going to bed and waking up at the same time every day regardless of whether it's a weekday or weekend.
  • Ensure that your room is quiet and dark (the darkness will assist with the natural melatonin production). If it is not dark enough, use a sleep mask.
  • Avoid screen time for one to two hours before bed.
  • Avoid vigorous exercise for an hour before bed.
  • Avoid alcohol.
  • Limit caffeine intake during the day.
  • If you are experiencing anxiety, try journalling, this can help to dispel any anxious thoughts.
  • If you wake up in the middle of the night and can't fall back to sleep, get up and do an activity that relaxes you. This will help you fall back to sleep. Tossing and turning will only result in frustration, and may actually train your body to stay awake in bed.

Change Your Nightime Ritual

Taking melatonin before sleep provides a routine, and routines can help prepare your body for sleep. If you are trying to stop taking melatonin supplements, replacing the melatonin with something else such as a cup of herbal tea or a bath can help you maintain a relaxing routine.

If you haven't been on melatonin but are looking at ways to enhance your sleep, establishing a routine can form an important part of your sleep hygiene.

Seeking Professional Guidance

Challenges with sleep can indicate an underlying issue, and whilst melatonin and other related supplements can assist with sleep, it does not address the underlying issue.

A healthcare provider can help to determine if there is an underlying issue at hand and can provide guidance and support for you.

Sleep and Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome (AFS)

An image of a man laying awake in bedAdrenal Fatigue Syndrome (AFS) is a cluster of symptoms that individuals experience due to chronic stress. Your body can handle short-term stress through the adrenal glands and NeuroEndoMetabolic (NEM) Stress Response System. In short-term stress, your adrenal glands play a larger role than the NEM system. They release stress hormones in response to stress. However, in the case of long-term stress, your adrenal glands can become depleted. This results in imbalances occurring in the NEM system and symptoms of AFS.

There are six circuits in the NEM system and one of these circuits is the Neuroaffect circuit. The brain, autonomic nervous system, and gut microbiome make up this circuit. If there is an imbalance in this circuit, it can cause anxiety, depression, stress intolerance, and sleep disturbances. These sleep disturbances include struggling to fall asleep and struggling to remain asleep. It can also exacerbate any feelings of anxiety and depression.

Cautions With AFS On Becoming Addicted To Melatonin

Sleep disturbances can be incredibly challenging and can make you desperate to try a range of products for sleep assistance. However, in AFS, your body becomes sensitive to external products and this includes supplements. Whilst a melatonin supplement may seem like a good idea, especially when you are sleep deprived, it may cause a negative reaction. This could set you back in your healing journey.

Whilst evidence is limited on whether you can get addicted to melatonin, you may experience reliance on melatonin if you do use it. This could complicate your healing journey as well.

If you are currently experiencing AFS and are struggling with your sleep, chat with your healthcare provider for guidance and support.

Addicted To Melatonin: Final Thoughts

Melatonin can assist with sleep. However, potential reliance can occur. More research is necessary to explore the connection between melatonin and any reliance it may cause. To avoid any potential addiction and/or reliance on melatonin, your best options are to reduce or avoid using it. Instead:

  • Practice sleep hygiene
  • Develop a nighttime routine
  • Seek professional support

If you are experiencing issues falling asleep or waking up multiple times during the night, the Dr. Lam team can assist you in determining the underlying causes. Call us at +1 (626) 571-1234 or click here for a free initial call.

© Copyright 2023 Michael Lam, M.D. All Rights Reserved.

Dr. Lam’s Key Question

Whilst there is not evidence that you can become addicted to melatonin, you can become reliant on it. Individuals who are at risk are individuals who experience psychiatric conditions, individuals with anxiety, depression, and individuals who are experiencing long-term sleep disturbances. Using melatonin short term and practicing other good sleep habits is the best way to avoid this.

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