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Melatonin use is on the rise - but is it safe?

Posted at 11:52 AM, Feb 17, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-17 13:52:18-05

A study recently published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that an increasing number of Americans are using over-the-counter melatonin supplements to try to get more sleep.

The study found the amount of melatonin taken by Americans has more than doubled between 2008 and 2018, and that some melatonin users are taking dangerously high amounts for extended periods, which can lead to problems like headaches, dizziness, confusion, irritability and depression.

Sleep experts worry the COVID-19 pandemic may also have increased people’s dependence on sleep aids, such as melatonin.

The National Institutes for Health says using the recommended dosage of 5 milligrams of melatonin occasionally is fine, but high levels have been linked to dementia, early mortality and other health issues.

Sleep experts also say melatonin works better for short-term treatment of what’s called circadian rhythm misalignment, like jet lag.

Here are six sleep strategies to use instead from Lori Neeleman, PhD, clinical psychologist at Intermountain Healthcare:

1. Create a restful environment. Create a room that’s ideal for sleeping.

“This often means dark, cool, and quiet,” said Dr. Neeleman. “it also means doing calming activities before bedtime, such as taking a bath or using relaxation techniques to promote better sleep.”

2. When it’s bedtime, turn off all lights and electronics. This includes the television, phone, and computer screens. Melatonin, the natural hormone that regulates the sleep-wake cycle, is inhibited by light, but as night falls it circulates more widely, which causes people to feel drowsy.

“Small amounts of light can disrupt our sleep-wake cycle, so don’t underestimate the impact the lights from electronics have on your ability to sleep well,” Dr. Neeleman said.

3. Be consistent and stick to a  sleep schedule. Go to bed and get up at the same time every day and don’t change your schedule on the weekends. Dr. Neeleman suggests, if you don’t fall asleep within about 20 minutes, leave your bedroom and do something relaxing like, read a book or listen to soothing music. When you’re tired, go back to bed.

4. Get up as soon as you hear the alarm. “It can be tempting to stay under the warm covers, but don’t hit the snooze button and subject yourself to the stress of anticipating the next time the alarm will go off,” said Dr. Neeleman. “Get. Up and turn on a light to send a signal to your brain that it’s time to wake up.”

5. Include physical activity in your daily routine. Regular physical activity can promote better sleep, however Dr. Neeleman suggests avoiding being active too close to bedtime.

6.  Watch what you eat and drink. Don’t eat a large meal before bedtime.

“If you are hungry at night, eat a light, healthy snack,” said Dr. Neeleman. “Also avoid consuming caffeine in the afternoon and alcohol right before bedtime.” It’s also a good idea to reduce your fluid intake before bedtime.

Remember that in times of stress, sleep often becomes temporarily disrupted, but will return to normal in time. If you are experiencing a lot of distress about your sleep, talk with your medical or mental health provider.