Do you sleep like a log when you hit the hay? Unfortunately, many of us don’t. According to the American Sleep Apnea Association, 25% of U.S. adults report insufficient sleep for at least 15 out of every 30 days. The National Institutes of Health predicts that our sleep debt is only going to get worse: by the middle of the 21st century, they predict more than 100 million Americans will have trouble falling asleep.

 

It’s no surprise, then, that the popularity of melatonin, a natural sleep aid, is on the rise. Is this the cure we’ve been searching for on sleepless nights? Could taking melatonin too often actually make our sleep worse overall? We don’t want you losing sleep over these questions—so let’s dive in.

 

 

What is melatonin, anyway?

Melatonin is a hormone that your body produces naturally. It helps regulate your sleep-wake cycle.

 

Here’s how Johns Hopkins sleep expert Luis F. Buenaver, Ph.D., explains it: “[Melatonin] doesn’t make you sleep, but as melatonin levels rise in the evening it puts you into a state of quiet wakefulness that helps promote sleep.”

 

Most people’s bodies produce enough melatonin on their own. There are ways to increase your melatonin production without the use of supplements, like eating foods that are rich in melatonin like Goji berries, walnuts, almonds, pineapple, bananas and oranges.

 

There’s also a lab-made version of melatonin that’s offered over the counter as a supplement. These are commonly available as gummies, pills, or liquid drops (and less commonly as sprays, creams, powders and patches), so you can choose which form is right for you.

 

 

Is melatonin safe to take every day?

According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH), short-term use of melatonin supplements appears to be safe for most people. For example, you may appreciate using melatonin when you’re experiencing insomnia, dealing with jet lag, or struggling to adjust to a new sleep schedule for work or school. It’s not recommended for long-term use because more research needs to be done before we know that it’s safe. 

 

Melatonin can have some mild side effects, like:

  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Drowsiness

Because melatonin can cause drowsiness during the day, don't drive within five hours of taking the supplement. Melatonin can also react with certain types of medication, so make sure to check with your doctor first.

 

You’ll want to skip the melatonin altogether if you’re pregnant, breastfeeding, or have an autoimmune disorder, a seizure disorder or depression. Make sure to talk to your doctor before adding any supplements to your routine.

 

 

Need some shut-eye? Here’s some more advice on sleep: