Can You Overdose On Melatonin?
written by sleep expert Lauren Hall
Can You Overdose On Melatonin?
Have you ever had trouble sleeping? Do you have a sleeping disorder like sleep apnea or insomnia?
The people unfortunate enough to have trouble sleeping often turn to sleep aids to help them get a good night’s rest.
Sleeping pills such as Ambien or ZzzQuil, while effective, can have inadvertent side effects when taken too much or in combination with other medication. They can also be addictive.
As such, safer alternatives and home remedies have become household favorites, including the supplementation of the hormone melatonin.
If you’ve been taking melatonin to help you sleep, you’ve probably asked yourself: Am I taking enough melatonin? Am I taking too much? How much melatonin is bad for me? Can taking too much melatonin even kill me?
Despite being touted as a safer, more natural remedy, examining the question of “Can you overdose on melanin?” is a must to ensure that what we are supplementing our body with something that helps us more than it hurts us.
While we do want melatonin to help us get a good night’s sleep, we need to make sure it does so properly and harmlessly — instead of giving us a permanent sleep.
What Is Melatonin?
Melatonin is a hormone that is secreted by the pineal gland in the brain. According to Sleep.org, melatonin helps maintain your body’s internal clock. Its production is affected by the amount of light you receive each day.
More light signals to the body that it is daytime and produces less melatonin, whereas less light signals nighttime when production ramps up in other to help you get to sleep.
Melatonin was first introduced around 1994 when MIT neuroscientist Dr. Richard Wurtman patented supplements to curb insomnia in the older populations who produce less melatonin with age.
Because melatonin is already a naturally produced hormone, it is seen as a natural, harmless, and non-addictive sleep aid, an alternative to over-the-counter chemical pills.
According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, nearly 1.3 million adults in America reported taking melatonin in February 2015. Less than half that number — 419,000 kids are being handed out melatonin by their parents.
Melatonin supplements are classified as a dietary supplement by the FDA, which means it isn’t held to the same rigorous research and patent standard than other drugs on the market must meet.
Federal law states that dietary supplements are not required to be proven safe to FDA’s satisfaction before they are marketed.
This includes the fact that supplements do not require an overdose risk warning on their labels, unlike over-the-counter sleeping pills. Companies are also allowed to sell melatonin in varying dosages, with no standardization, and set an overdose limit.
How Much Melatonin Is Too Much?
Research conducted by a team at MIT in 2001, concluded that the correct dosage for melatonin falls between 0.3 and 1 mg. Yet, a quick look at melatonin supplements available on the market shows them being sold at 3 to 10 times higher dosages.
The effects of melatonin and the side effects of overdosing varies from person to person. As such, what is too much melatonin for one person could be a perfectly reasonable amount for another.
According to a 2005 meta-analysis, prolonged and constant use of melatonin supplements will also force your body to become desensitized, meaning taking the same amount will stop having an effect to help you sleep.
In such cases, people are often tempted to take more within a shorter period of time, resulting in an overdose that can have severe (although not lethal) side effects.
How Much Melatonin Should I Start Taking?
It is recommended that you start taking small doses of melatonin and gradually increase the dose if it’s ineffective over time. According to Sleep.org, the average dose for an adult is between 0.2 to 5 mg, which should be taken at least 60 minutes for bedtime.
So, start at 0.2 mg and see how that affects your sleep cycle and resist taking more if you do not feel immediately drowsy.
Children, are recommended to take even smaller doses and only when necessary, such as when they have a sleeping disorder and require help sleeping. Kids can take larger doses as recommended by their doctors.
What Happens When I Overdose On Melatonin?
Having too much melatonin in your body can cause adverse side effects, ranging from hormonal disbalance to regular drowsiness. Below is a list of some melatonin side effects.
People take melatonin in order to induce natural drowsiness to ease sleep. However, increased dosages mean that it takes longer for melatonin to leave your system and even leave you feeling drowsy the day after you take your nightly dosage.
Daytime drowsiness can greatly affect your focus, concentration, and productivity throughout the day. Increased risks when operating heavy machinery and driving, could also have severe lethal consequences.
The melatonin you are taking, although naturally produced by your body, is a synthetic hormone. Introducing a synthetic hormone into your system can greatly affect your hormonal balance and cause changes to how your body works.
For pregnant women, melatonin intake is not recommended as it could negatively impact the growth of their fetus.
It can also reduce the libido of both sexes, interfering also with the sperm count of men and the ovulation cycles of women. If you are considering having a child, you should refrain from taking melatonin.
Headaches and Dizziness
Since melatonin is a hormone produced by the pineal gland in the brain, an extra surge of melatonin can affect it, leading to an excruciating headache.
Dozing off on melatonin, especially during the day, can lead to dizziness due to oversleeping. Dizziness can also be triggered by an allergic reaction to the supplement itself and can greatly impair your focus and functioning.
One of the more common side effects, taking too much melatonin can cause nausea, even at low doses. You may also experience vomiting, stomach pains, or diarrhea, depending on how sensitive you are to the supplement.
Paranoia & Hallucinations
A seriously large dose of melatonin can cause a hormonal disbalance in your body that can lead you to feel severely disoriented.
You can easily start experiencing a heightened sense of paranoia, confusion and even start having hallucinations. If you already have a mental disorder that causes such symptoms, taking too much melatonin can worsen them.
Anxiety & Depression
If you start taking melatonin and your body isn’t used to the sudden change, it can cause a serious hormonal imbalance that can induce increased anxiety as well as depression.
The effect of melatonin that makes you feel drowsy and wants to sleep, can leave you feeling sluggish and unmotivated to function as you regularly would without it.
A natural release of melatonin causes a natural decrease in body temperature in order to relax your body and get it geared and ready for sleep. Hence, taking too much melatonin can exacerbate that effect and lead to such a drastic temperature drop that you get hypothermia.
If you suffer from diabetes or high blood pressure, it is recommended that you stay away from melatonin unless you have consulted about it with your doctor.
Increased melatonin can increase blood sugar and raise blood pressure which in turn can cause strokes or seizures, especially when taken in concert with other diabetic or blood pressure medication.
Is Melatonin Completely Bad?
Despite all list of side effects we have just provided, overdosing on melatonin isn’t as bad as it sounds. There are no deaths that have been directly caused by melatonin, and taking too much will probably only cause you severe discomfort.
A meta-analysis conducted in 2005, by Dr. Wurtman himself, states that melatonin’s positive effects on sleep “are statistically significant” but only when taken in the recommended small dosages of up to 1 mg.
Because FDA classified melatonin as a dietary supplement, many companies sell it at above the recommended dosage. A quick search did bring up 1mg supplements from Nature’s Bounty. If you want to start taking melatonin, it’d be best to start with these small dose tablets.
Melatonin has also been shown to improve things besides sleep, being a known anti-aging agent that can also prolong life through the treatment of diseases. Below is a list of some of the health benefits of melatonin.
An article published in the Journal of Neuroscience in 2011, showed that melatonin was able to mitigate the effects of Huntington’s disease, a neurodegenerative disorder that results in involuntary movement and decreased intellectual function caused by loss of brain neurons from a mutant protein that develops as you age.
Although the study was done on an animal model of the disease, the implications for its effects on humans is promising.
One powerful property of melatonin is its ability to cross the blood-brain barrier, meaning that an oral intake of melatonin leads to an increase in levels of melatonin in the brain. This is particularly useful in delaying the onset of Alzheimer’s disease, another neurodegenerative disease.
Declines in mitochondrial function are caused by oxidative damage and decay, which increases with age. Melatonin can prevent this decay by protecting vital cellular structures and brain cell death.
Melatonin has been found to possess 200% more antioxidant power than vitamin E. Antioxidants are vital in combating cell-damaging free radicals that can cause related diseases from cardiovascular disease to cancer.
In post-menopausal women, for instance, melatonin inhibits damage to fat cells caused by free radicals, also known as lipid peroxidation.
Lipid peroxidation causes a decrease in low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol which is the main ingredient in the formation of atherosclerosis.
Other widely free radical diseases include age-related macular degeneration, glaucoma, and sepsis, all of which have shown a positive response to increased levels of melatonin.
Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, making melatonin’s ability to protect against heart damage especially impressive.
Melatonin can lower blood pressure levels, decreasing the chances of strokes and protect against heart muscle injury, reduce the damage done by heart attacks and improve blood flow by strengthening the heart’s pumping action.
Cancer therapy and immune system regulation
Studies have suggested that melatonin might possess anticarcinogenic properties, with its ability to interfere with cancer cell growth and induce cancer cell death in tumors.
It also helped decreased the side effects of ongoing cancer treatment, helping mitigate low platelet counts, neuropathy, and fatigue. These effects have been reported to consist across varying types of cancer.
The anticarcinogenic properties of melatonin could be attributed to its effect on the immune system.
Laboratory studies showed that melatonin activates T-helper cells that trigger other immune cells to kill off foreign invaders or pathogens in the system, promoting healthy cell-to-cell communication to fight diseases.
Protection against diabetic complications
Diabetes, like cardiovascular disease and cancer, is a type of free radical disease. People with type 2 diabetes experience changes in their melatonin secretion.
Thus, increasing melatonin with dietary supplements can help protect organs affected by diabetes, including kidneys, pancreas, and retinas.
One cause of obesity is overeating due to stress, sleep deprivation, and hormonal changes.
In a recent study of women with night eating syndrome (a condition in which they are prone to late-night binge eating), the women suffering from the syndrome had severe circadian rhythm disturbances which also affected their levels of cortisol (a stress-inducing hormone) and ghrelin (a hunger-inducing hormone).
Although there are no human weight management trials yet preclinical trials on rodents have produced encouraging results. Daily melatonin intake was found to suppress abdominal fat, insulin levels while also regulating body weight and food intake.
Osteoporosis is a degenerative bone disease that causes bone structures to become weak and brittle, commonly brought on with increasing age.
A small study shows the possibility that melatonin can help with bone repair and remodeling, by helping the production of osteocalcin (which is used in bone formation) and decreasing the production of Type-I collagen cross-linked N-telopeptide (an ingredient for bone resorption/bone loss). Further research is needed to cement the findings of this small study.
If you are considering trying out melatonin to help you get better sleep, here’s a recap of what you know and what step you should take to ensure you take the supplement safely.
Do your research — there are tons of resources out there that document what melatonin is and how exactly it affects your body and sleep cycle.
If you have any chronic illness, such as cardiovascular disease or even mental illnesses like anxiety and depression, taking melatonin can exacerbate symptoms, so it would be best for you to know what to expect when you take melatonin.
Consult a doctor — if you wish to take melatonin in order to combat insomnia or help with any other sleeping disorder, consult with a doctor to ensure that you getting the right dosage that can help you sleep better without causing adverse side effects, or even worsen your sleeping habits.
It is especially recommended to do this if you are thinking about giving melatonin to your children, as it is a hormone that disrupts their developmental cycles.
Start with small doses — the recommended dose of melatonin is 1 mg or less, at least 60 minutes before bedtime.
Because FDA classified melatonin as a dietary supplement, most companies sell them at higher dosages. There’s a bottle of 1 mg tablets from Nature’s Bounty that you can start with and gradually increase your dosage over time if you don’t react badly to it.
Resist increasing your dosage in the same night — you might have followed all the steps so far and expected the melatonin to give fast relief. You took a small 1 mg tablet 60 minutes before bed and waited — until you realize you’re still nowhere near feeling sleepy.
You might be tempted to pop another few tablets every 5 minutes until they start to take effect, but doing that can easily lead to an overdose.
Stick to your initial dosage because chances are if that dose isn’t having any effect, adding more melatonin won’t help as much. You’re only going to increase your chances of side effects, including feeling drowsy during the next day.
Do other things to help you get to sleep — although melatonin has proven to be an effective sleep aid for some, things might be different for you. The best way to improve your sleep cycle is to not rely solely on melatonin and engage in a lifestyle that makes sleep a priority.
That includes turning off and staying away from electronics before bedtime and setting up sleep time rituals to tell your body it’s time to go to bed. If you’ve tossed and turned for hours with no avail, get out of bed and do something else until you feel tired enough to turn in.
So, I’m sure some of you may still be wondering, can you overdose on melatonin?
The short answer is yes, but an overdose is not lethal and can produce adverse side effects. With any health supplement, we should be aware of what we are feeding our body and make sure to take melatonin in moderation.
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