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Melatonin use for sleep is on the rise but study reveals people are taking too much

Posted at 5:51 AM, Mar 18, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-18 09:19:03-04

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Like clockwork, Dan Margritz is always the first person to walk through the gym doors of Hope College's athletic center.

"Today I woke up at 3:45 a.m. this morning," said Margritz. "I get here every day about 5:30 a.m. and make sure everything's set up ready to rock for these people that come in here."

Margritz is the head strength and conditioning coach for Hope College athletes.

A job that requires early mornings and a lot of energy.

It's people like Margritz, who go to bed at odd hours or simply need help falling asleep that have turned to the well-known sleep supplement - melatonin.

"I get a restful sleep, without like feeling groggy and not waking up. I wake up rested and ready to go," said Margritz.

In a new study by The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) - researchers analyzed 20 years of data from more than 55,000 surveyed U.S. adults.

The study found by 2018, people were taking over twice the amount of melatonin than they did 10 years before - and higher doses.

"Melatonin is a hormone, which means it's a messenger," said Dr. Kelly Waters, sleep medicine specialist & neurologist at Spectrum Health. "The way that melatonin works, lack of light is what stimulates its release. And unfortunately, we're getting a lot more light exposure, especially at night time. So that light, especially the blue light spectrum, actually decreases your brain's melatonin release. In addition to us just living busier lives and pushing sleep later and shorter. It's not surprising that people are looking to help them get settled and get to sleep faster."

Waters says melatonin is a safe option for people in general - its the dosage people are taking that can become a concern.

"The concern is that it's higher doses of melatonin," said Waters. "The useful milligram dose is anywhere from one to five, some people try five to ten. There are reasons that we try higher-dose melatonin, but that does not pertain to the general population."

According to the JAMA study, there's an increasing amount of adults who are taking doses of melatonin that far exceed 5 milligrams - which could result in side effects, like; dizziness, nausea, and next-day tiredness.

Another concern is that these supplements have little regulation and are often labeled inaccurately.

The inaccurate labeling makes it hard for experts to know how it interacts with other medications, according to experts.

"It's not FDA regulated the way prescription medications are. There have been studies that look at 'what does the milligram on the package say?' and then actually breaking down the pills and analyzing what the melatonin component is," said Waters. "Some might be accurate, some might be off - I think the study mentioned off by 20% and up to 400%."

Waters says she recommends her patients use melatonin for short-term sleep scheduling or shifting because too much for too long of a period could impact your body's natural production of the hormone.

"Generally, melatonin is one of the more benign things to take," said Waters. "Keep it low on the dosage side, that's where we see the benefits of it. If you're pushing the dose, you're probably not going to get a lot more benefit from it."

For the long run, Waters recommends setting the stage for sleep, which means - dim lighting, no screen time, and unplugging at least a half-hour before bed.