How much is too much? Information on correct dosage and overdose
Melatonin, along with other over-the-counter sleeping pills, is supposed to help you when you have trouble falling asleep. Usually, melatonin supplements are designed to keep you from tossing and turning if taken correctly within an hour of your desired bedtime. But you might be wondering how exactly these supplements work – and what’s the best amount of over-the-counter product to take if you really need a sleeping pill?
“Melatonin is a hormone produced by the pineal gland located in our skull,” explains Muhammad A. Rishi, MD, MBBS, who specializes in pulmonary medicine, critical care medicine, and sleep disorders for Indiana University physicians. “Exposure to melatonin results in the regulation of various activities throughout the body, including the regulation of body temperature, the secretion of various hormones, and, in fact, when we feel drowsy and when we feel awake.”
According to Dr. Rishi, our bodies naturally produce an estimated amount 10 to 80 mcg (micrograms) of melatonin per night – levels generally increasing in the evening when the sun goes down, remaining high throughout the night and decreasing significantly in the morning. But melatonin is also available in synthetic form as an over-the-counter supplement, which mimics the natural hormone produced by your body.
Many people turn to these supplements to help them fall asleep – but as clinicians from the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) have pointed outthere is actually little to no evidence that melatonin works as an effective sleep aid treatment for insomnia. It can, however, be an effective treatment for circadian rhythm disorders – meaning you can take melatonin to adjust the Hourly of your sleep if you are jet lagged, work nights, or have a delayed sleep-wake phase (i.e. to reset your sleep schedule.
Planning on taking melatonin to get you to bed faster tonight? Here’s what you need to know about proper and safe dosage, according to sleep experts.
How much melatonin is too much? Can you overdose on melatonin?
Taking too much melatonin can disrupt your circadian rhythm and cause unwanted side effects – so yes, you box technically a melatonin overdose. “Signs of melatonin overdose may include, but are not limited to, excessive drowsiness, dizziness, upset stomach, diarrhea, lethargy, low blood pressure, and confusion,” explains the Dr Rishi. The officials at American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) also point to chronic headaches, high blood pressure, vomiting or nausea, and increased hair loss as potential symptoms of a melatonin overdose.
It is important to note that melatonin is marketed as a dietary supplement in the United States (while available only by prescription in many other countries) and is not regulated by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) – meaning there are no official safety guidelines on dosage, although the best products follow the “USP Verified which establishes production standards guided by the US Pharmacopeial Convention.
However, Dr. Rishi advises that adults should not take more than 5 mg per night without talking to their doctor or healthcare provider. Any dose above this threshold is more likely to trigger immediate side effects, including headaches and dizziness in some people, as highlighted in documents published by the Mayo Clinic.
According to Dr. Rishi, there is currently not enough research to determine the appropriate or safe dosage for children. A recent health advisory from the AASM indicated that melatonin poisoning is becoming more common in children and adolescents; this may be because popular chewable supplements may contain wildly varying amounts of melatonin or may contain additional hormones like serotonin, which may cause an imbalance in children.
“Many sleep problems may be better managed with a change in schedules, habits or behaviors rather than by taking melatonin,” the AASM advisory states, adding that parents or caregivers should always speak with a pediatrician or healthcare professional before considering giving melatonin to children.
If you think you have taken too much melatonin, you should contact poison control at 1-800-222-1222.
So how much melatonin should I take?
There is no official standard dosage of melatonin that researchers have established as the optimal or ideal amount to take. — and you will find that melatonin is available for purchase in a wide range of dosages. In general, however, Dr. Rishi recommends a dose of 3 to 5 mg (milligrams) for adresults. For children, you will need to clarify all dosage recommendations with a pediatrician, who can provide advice based on your child’s complete medical history.
According to the AASM, however, a small dose of melatonin may be more effective than a high dose; In fact, a dose of approximately 0.3 mg closely resembles your body’s natural level of melatonin production. The “right” dose of melatonin may depend on factors such as your age, weight, and individual sensitivity. As a general rule, it’s best to start with the lowest dose of melatonin possible and increase from there.
“Ideally I would start an adult on the low end of 0.2mg, but most over-the-counter supplements start with much higher doses of melatonin, which honestly isn’t necessary,” says Stacy Mobley, NMD, MPH, one licensed naturopathic physician. “I wouldn’t put a child on melatonin.”
One important thing to note: Since melatonin is not regulated or controlled by the FDA, it is possible that the dosage on the label correlates with the amount of hormones actually present in the supplement.
“Research shows that there is great variability between what is on the label of melatonin supplements and what is actually in the bottle,” Dr. Rishi warns. “If someone decides to use melatonin, the [AASM] recommends using formulations bearing the USP mark, which means the manufacturer follows strict guidelines, including making sure the right dose is in the bottle.”
Is it safe to take melatonin every night?
You might be tempted to take a melatonin supplement every night, but it could have long-lasting effects on your sleep schedule.
“Melatonin is probably safe for short-term use,” says Dr. Rishi. “Unfortunately, long-term data is not available on whether or not it is safe for chronic use.” Additionally, melatonin should not be mixed with other sedatives or medications such as anticonvulsants, contraceptives, blood pressure medications, or diabetes medications, according to the Mayo Clinic..
Ideally, you should discuss melatonin use with your GP, including when and what dose is best for you, before you start taking the supplement.
You’re unlikely to become addicted, have a diminished response after repeated use, or experience a hangover effect on melatonin, unlike many other sleeping pills, experts say. Still, you shouldn’t rely solely on melatonin supplements to fix your sleep, advises Mobley.
“It’s important to look at each person’s situation and case to determine why they can’t fall asleep or stay asleep,” she explains. “This is often due to habits rather than an inability or reduced production of melatonin by the body. This is why I do not recommend melatonin as the first line of defense in the event of sleep loss or inability to sleep.”
Things to consider before taking melatonin:
So what box are you doing to sleep better, instead of reaching for that bottle of melatonin every night? Dr. Mobley emphasizes the importance of healthy sleep habits, exercise, and stress management, all of which can give you the “right building blocks” your body needs for a good night’s sleep.
One of the most important things to do is practice good sleep hygiene, which refers to the various healthy habits and behaviors you adopt to help you get a good night’s sleep. According to Dr. Mobley, this includes:
- Avoid light-emitting objects and electronic devices near bedtime. Not only can mental stimulation keep you awake, electronic devices also emit blue light which can reduce your body’s production of melatonin. Stop using your phone, computer, television, or other devices at least 30 minutes before bedtime.
- Create a relaxing bedtime routine to help you wind down to sleep. Taking a good shower or bath, meditating or praying, playing soothing music or stretching are some of the activities recommended by Dr. Mobley.
- Skip coffee, caffeinated teas, sodas and alcohol before bed. These substances can interfere with your ability to sleep as well as the quality of your sleep.
- Exercise regularly. Dr. Mobley recommends exercising at least three times a week for 20 to 30 minutes at a time. Even if you don’t have a gym membership or equipment, a great way to get moving is to walk during the day, which will help boost serotonin levels which would likely be converted to melatonin later in the day. explains Dr. Mobley.
- Stay hydrated and eat healthy. Drinking enough water will keep the body functioning properly and reduce pain that can occur at night, says Dr. Mobley, while a healthy diet will help prevent most chronic diseases.
Hannah (she) is an editorial assistant for Good Housekeeping, where she writes health content and assists with social media strategy on platforms including Instagram, TikTok, Facebook and Twitter. Previously a GH editor, she earned her bachelor’s degree in seminar writing and psychology from Johns Hopkins University. When she’s not endlessly scrolling social media, you can often find her clicking behind a camera, fangirling over Taylor Swift, or trying new restaurants in New York City.
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