Among the sleep disorders in the US, insomnia is ranked as the most common sleep disorder among adults. Short term insomnia accounts for around 30% of individuals with a sleep problem while long term insomnia reportedly accounts for another 10% of individuals with sleep disorders. Melatonin supplements are popular and widely used for treating sleep problems. The probability of adverse or undesirable effects of supplements extends even to melatonin – here is an in-depth study of the commonly reported side effects of melatonin and tips to manage the effects.

How does melatonin work and the side effects of melatonin

To understand the side effects of melatonin better it is essential to take a good look at the how melatonin works. Classified as a biogenic amine, melatonin is produced in the pineal gland, that is located in the brain. Melatonin secretion typically reduces during the day, when the body is exposed to sunlight, and conversely, secretion increases when it is dark. This is known to regulate the circadian rhythm, which controls or impacts the sleep wake cycle. The secretion triggers drowsy feelings, simultaneously lowering the body temperature. While this chemical action is generally associated with sleep, it is important to note that it has an impact on mood and various other activities that include memory, learning etc.

Melatonin supplements are used by individuals trying to overcome the effects of jet lag, and sleep disorders in individuals who work in night shifts. It is also used for helping the blind to sleep, mainly as a result of the altered circadian rhythm. Evidence supports the effectiveness of the supplement in helping vision impaired children and adults to sleep. Similarly, the supplements are also known to be effective in helping individuals with certain other ailments to enjoy deep sleep. For instance, individuals with autism or nervous system disorders or children with developmental disabilities are known to benefit from the supplements. It is time to take a look at the side effects of melatonin.

Side effects of melatonin : interactions with other medications or conditions

The side effects of melatonin include possible interactions with other medications or conditions. This compilation of interactions will help guard and mitigate against possible adverse conditions. Individuals who are on blood thinners are advised to stay away from the supplements as this could result in undesired effects. For instance, there is a possibility of bleeding when the supplement is taken along with anticoagulants. Patients with hypertension are likely to take anticoagulants to control blood pressure levels and this interaction could cause unwanted problems. It is therefore necessary to avoid the supplement to prevent bleeding.

Among the other side effects of melatonin, studies have revealed that when the supplements are taken in high volumes, there is a possibility of it having an impact on the insulin producing cells’ ability to release insulin. It is therefore necessary for diabetics to seek medical advice prior to taking melatonin supplements. Similarly, individuals with diagnosed seizure disorders are also advised to seek the advice of specialists before taking the supplements. This is because research is inconclusive about the effects of the supplements on epilepsy patients. Other categories of individuals who are advised to stay away from the supplements are those who have had allergic reactions to the supplement earlier. An individual who has experienced some allergy at any point of time will continue to be allergic to the substance/medication and it is essential to avoid it always.

The supplement is also known to interact with drugs that are used to suppress the immune system. Patients who have undergone organ transplants are more likely to be prescribed medications that suppress the immune system in order to prevent organ rejection. This will interact with melatonin supplement and it is essential to stay off the supplement to avoid side effects of melatonin. Similarly, patients on other prescription or over the counter medication that cause drowsiness are also advised to stay off the supplements. This is primarily because the supplement will cause drowsiness and this will add to the drowsy effects of other medications. This could pose a serious problem especially among individuals working with machinery or equipment which requires high degrees of alertness.

Alcoholics or individuals consuming large quantities of alcohol may find that the effectiveness of melatonin is reduced. Alcohol is known to considerably reduce the levels of melatonin and consequently, individuals may find less than desired outcomes from the supplements. Additionally, certain side effects of melatonin and alcohol combination may be experienced. Commonly reported symptoms include drowsiness, or difficulty while breathing, or passing out abnormally. Other symptoms include the increased risk of falling, and dizzy feelings. Individuals who consume alcohol while on melatonin supplements are advised to exercise great care while driving or while walking. Manifestations include reddish appearance in the face, inflammation in the feet or the hands, fitful sleeping, constant irritation, and an inability to think clearly. Other possibilities include a difference in heart beat rate and feelings of anxiety.

Recommended dosage to avoid side effects of melatonin

To avoid side effects of melatonin it is important to stick to the recommended dosages. By virtue of being classified as supplements, there is a possibility of individuals taking higher dosages, which could result in adverse effects. For instance, there is a possibility of overdose which could result in different effects in individuals depending on various parameters. For instance, in certain individuals, an overdose could result in triggering sleepiness, while in others an overdose could result in increasing alertness. There are simple indicators of possible overdose, that can help an individual to seek medical attention. For instance, feelings of anxiety are experienced in individuals as a result of a possible overdose. Similarly, there is a possibility of a headache, or an upset stomach as a result of an overdose.

Other manifestations or side effects of melatonin include bouts of diarrhea not attributed to other causes, and pain in the joints. Importantly, there could be an increase in blood pressure levels, as a result of an overdose. Hypertensive patients are advised to seek medical advice before taking the medication and exercise great care to ensure that the right/recommended dosages are followed.

Ideal dosages

Ideal dosages are typically worked out on the basis of age, body weight and the condition that warrants the supplement. Adults are typically prescribed dosages anywhere between one to 5 milligrams, but in certain cases the dosages could also be as low as .5 milligrams or as much as 10 milligrams. The amount of melatonin produced is around .3 mg, and therefore the same effects could also be experienced with a low dose. It is not necessary in all cases to opt for a high dose, as this could result in heavier than required levels in the body. Children are typically recommended .5 mg or 1 mg and this is sometimes incrementally increased by .5 mg if the previous dose is not effective enough. The maximum recommended dose for children is 3 mg, while older children with greater sleep related problems may be given as much as 6 mg depending on the condition.

The formulation also depends on the time of intake of the supplement. For instance, when it is taken on an empty stomach (before food), the recommended formulation is immediate release. However, in the case of the supplement being taken after food, the recommended formulation is modified release types. To minimise side effects of melatonin it is also important to take the supplements at the right time. Ideally, the most suitable time to take melatonin is a few hours before going to bed. The purpose of the supplement is to readjust the body’s sleep wake cycle or ensure that the sleep wake cycle offers adequate rest. Therefore, individuals taking the supplement to overcome jet lag, need to take this a few days before the actual journey and time it in such a manner so as to have it a few hours going to bed at the destination.

High risk categories of individuals

To mitigate the side effects of melatonin it is important to identify high risk categories of individuals and take the right precautions in terms of dosage and timings. While the supplement is regarded as safe for almost all individuals with limited side effects, a few categories of individuals need to exercise caution. A history of allergic reactions in the past, especially with melatonin places an individual at high risk. Similarly, low or high blood pressure are also cause for concern, and place individuals in high risk. The interactions of the supplement with certain medications puts patients on those medications at risk of experiencing interactions. Effectively, patients on blood thinners, or birth control medication, drugs to treat diabetes, blood pressure and seizure disorders are risk. All individuals operating heaving machinery, or in hazardous roles need to take only recommended dosage and monitor symptoms of side effects.

Overall benefits of melatonin supplements outweigh the relatively lesser side effects

The overall benefits of melatonin supplements outweigh the side effects of melatonin and this explains the widespread use. The supplement also has antioxidant properties, in addition to treating other conditions such as headache, and withdrawal symptoms associated with nicotine. Patients scheduled to undergo surgical procedures and in pre-operative stage are likely to experience some anxiety and melatonin helps to overcome anxious feelings. It is also used in topical form to prevent sunburns, apart from being used as part of holistic treatment for certain forms of cancer. Overall, melatonin is extremely beneficial and barring a few categories of patients or individuals or conditions, it does not have serious side effects. When taken in the right dosage and as per recommended timings, it is possible to minimise any potential side effects.

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