In recent years, experts have seen increasing numbers of Americans taking over-the-counter (OTC) melatonin supplements as sleep aid. In some cases, parents decided on their own to give it to their children who had trouble sleeping; others tried it because a pediatrician recommended it.

Melatonin has long been touted as a natural sleep remedy. But this over-the-counter supplement is not herbal—it’s a hormone. And it’s not fully regulated by the US FDA. Studies have found some supplements far exceed the amount of melatonin listed on the label.

Due to the pandemic’s negative impact on sleep, health experts are worried that patients are relying more heavily on sleep aids, which could partly account for why people are taking more than twice the amount of melatonin than they were a decade ago—according to a new study, published in the medical journal JAMA.

According to CNN, “Melatonin has been linked to headache, dizziness, nausea, stomach cramps, drowsiness, confusion or disorientation, irritability, and mild anxiety, depression, and tremors, as well as abnormally low blood pressure. It can also interact with common medications and trigger allergies.”

While short-term use for jet lag, shift workers, and people who have trouble falling asleep appears to be safe, long-term safety is unknown, according to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health at the National Institutes of Health.

Experts worry that the pandemic’s negative impact on sleep may have further increased the public’s reliance on any type of prescription and over-the-counter sleeping aid, Robbins said.

“In an associational study we found that older adults who reported frequent use — every night or most nights — of a sleep aid (over the counter or prescription) had a higher risk of incident dementia and early mortality,” she said.

However, researchers could not determine which type of sleep aid — over-the-counter medications, such as melatonin, or prescription medications — was responsible for the findings.

AWM noted:

So, if you are considering taking melatonin to help you sleep better, it’s important that you speak with your doctor first and get their professional opinion on whether or not it is safe for you. It’s also important to be aware of the potential risks involved with taking too much melatonin and make sure that you are not taking more than the recommended dosage.

Taking too much of any supplement, whether it’s natural or not, can always lead to serious health complications down the road. So, be safe and always speak with your doctor before taking anything – no matter how harmless it might seem. Your health is always worth more than a good night’s sleep.

Sources: AWM, JAMA,  CNN

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