Melatonin is a popular sleep aid to pack when you’re traveling to a new time zone since it can help shift your circadian rhythm and sleep timing. But if you’re looking to take the hormone nightly to help you wind down for bed, be sure to read these busted myths first:
Myth #1. Melatonin is a sleep supplement.
While the use of melatonin as a supplement has become popular in more recent years, it is, in fact, a hormone that the body naturally produces.
And for what it’s worth, melatonin isn’t advertised (or used casually) as a supplement outside of the United States and Canada, according to David Kennaway, Ph.D., the research program leader of the Circadian Physiology Group at the University of Adelaide in Australia. Outside the U.S. and Canada, melatonin often requires a prescription and is only intended for short-term use.
Myth #2. Melatonin helps with sleep quality.
You might think that because melatonin signals to your body that it’s time to sleep, it would also improve your overall sleep quality. But according to functional medicine doctor Frank Lipman, M.D., melatonin is better suited for getting your sleep schedule/circadian rhythm back on track temporarily. There is limited evidence that it improves nightly sleep quality over longer periods of time. In addition, the hormone won’t necessarily make it easier to stay asleep or reach deep sleep stages, even if it helps you fall asleep.
Myth #3. It’s safe to take in high quantities.
It might be tempting to pop another melatonin when you want to fall asleep fast, but Shelby Harris, PsyD, DBSM, a behavioral sleep doctor and author of The Women’s Guide to Overcoming Insomnia, states that melatonin is best consumed in low doses (0.5 milligram to 1 milligram).
“If you’re taking more than 3 to 5 milligrams nightly, then melatonin isn’t likely for you. There’s just no data suggesting that more than [0.5 milligram to 1 milligram] is indicated for sleep issues, and sometimes more is just more,” she explains. On top of that she adds that “Taking melatonin, particularly at higher doses, can be linked to undesirable desensitizing phenomena, such as nightmares, grogginess, and headaches.”
Myth #4. Melatonin is side-effect free.
And last but not least, just because melatonin is produced naturally by our bodies doesn’t mean it comes without side effects when consumed exogenously as a sleep aid. Since melatonin is a hormone, it can affect your other hormones as well. “Taking a lot of melatonin—a lot of people take 3 to 5 milligrams to sleep—over time is going to affect your other hormones and suppress your body’s own ability to make melatonin.