Melatonin is a hormone made inside the pineal gland of the brain. The brain releases melatonin into the bloodstream, primarily at night, to help naturally regulate the body’s sleep-and-wake cycles. The study’s researchers note that melatonin supplements are indicated, and widely used, to help circadian rhythm disorders “despite insufficient evidence” of their long-term safety or efficacy.
That more adults may be taking over-the-counter aids to help them fall asleep isn’t surprising, especially in light of the significant increase in life stressors as a result of the pandemic. And the study does note that overall use of melatonin as a sleep aid in the United States remains “very low.”
While melatonin is “generally regarded as safe,” researchers do have concerns — not only that adults are steadily taking more than the recommended daily amount of melatonin, but also that “the actual content of melatonin in marketed supplements may be up to 478% higher than the labeled content,” which means adults don’t always know how much melatonin they’re taking — or the level of purity of the product.
Melatonin is not without health risks either. The report notes that “adverse effects have been reported, and data on long-term use and high-dose use are scarce.” Short-term side effects, meanwhile, can include daytime sleepiness, headaches, dizziness, nausea and irritability.
The study offers further support that more research is needed to understand not only the potential adverse health risks of long-term use of melatonin but also the integrity, purity and amount of melatonin sold to consumers over-the-counter.
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