Tuesday October 21st 2014

Can you get addicted to melatonin?

The short answer is: we don’t know.

To date, researchers have not documented cases of melatonin addiction. But medications (even naturally occuring hormone supplements) are never entirely “risk free.” Still, therapeutic melatonin is less likely than other sedative-hypnotics to lead to dependence and abuse because using melatonin does not cause euphoria. So what is the relationship between melatonin and the body? We explore here.

Melatonin chemistry and use

Melatonin is a naturally occuring neuro-hormone which is synthesized by the pineal gland. Natural melatonin is thought to regulated sleep, mood, puberty, and ovarian cycles.

Melatonin supplements are still be investigated for use in people. This is because researchers think that melatonin plays a significant role in regulating the sleep-wake cycle. As a result, melatonin supplements have been used to help people sleep after circadian phase disorders such as jet lag and are being investigated in treatment of seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Whether or not melatonin supplement can treat primary or secondary insomnia is less well established.

Melatonin and the brain

Therapeutic melatonin may have sedative effects on the brain. Sedation is thought to occur through direct inhibition of a part of the brain called the suprachiasmatic nucleus. But, it should be noted here that melatonin (unlike other hypnotics or sedative medications) DOES NOT CAUSE euphoria, the “high” that people get and seek during drug abuse. This lack of euphoric effect significantly reduces addiction risk and makes melatonin a safer alternative to other sleeping aids.

Melatonin side effects

Melatonin appears to have a relatively benign side effect profile. In general, melatonin is well tolerated in the dose range of 0.1 mg-10 mg with few reported adverse events. The most commonly reported adverse effects of melatonin were

  • nausea
  • headache
  • dizziness drowsiness

Is melatonin addiction possible?

Melatonin supplements are a relatively safe substance when used in the short term: over a period of days or weeks. Furthermore, melatonin has been shown to be safe at relatively high doses and in various formulations. However, the safety of melatonin when used over months and years, remains unclear.

Mixing melatonin with other substances

Melatonin can cause sleepiness and drowsiness. So taking melatonin with other prescription sedative medications might cause too much sleepiness. Some sedative medications that you should avoid while taking melatonin supplements include:

  • clonazepam (Klonopin)
  • lorazepam (Ativan)
  • phenobarbital (Donnatal)
  • zolpidem (Ambien)

Questions about melatonin dependency

Medications and supplements used to treat insomnia and sleep disorders have always been a source of concern for doctors and regulatory bodies. This is because various classes of agents have been associated with risks of abuse, dependency, and toxicity with overdose. But the naturally occurring hormone melatonin is perceived to be more safe.

If you are concerned that you have grown physically or mentally dependent on melatonin to sleep, please let us know. You can leave your questions, comments or feedback here and we will answer you personally and promptly.

Reference sources: Complimentary and Alternative Medicine for Sleep Disturbances in Older Adults
AHRQ Melatonin for treatment of sleep disorders
NCI Thesaurus entry on Therapeutic Melatonin
EPA [dot] gov Pharmacologic therapy: Melatonin, antidepressants, and other agents

Photo credit: Tayrawr Fortune

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30 Responses to “Can you get addicted to melatonin?
Katrina
4:33 pm November 29th, 2011

Excellent information. Looks like melatonin should only be used on a temporary basis.

Maritza
4:56 am January 21st, 2012

I feel like I may be. I feel like I can’t sleep without it. I was taking like 4 times a week for the past few months. Then I started to realize that I wasn’t sleeping well on the days I wasn’t taking it. So I was like, ok, maybe I need to stop relying on this stuff so much. But I really miss taking it. I should be asleep now, but I am not, because I didn’t take. My melatonin!! I miss it.. ;)

7:22 pm January 22nd, 2012

Thanks for sharing your experience, Maritza. Have you thought about seeing a doctor or psychologist? It’s possible that underlying medical conditions or mental health issues are affecting your sleep.

And congratulations on the decision to stop taking melatonin. I know that when I took it for short term jet lag, my sleep was actually WORSE…and I would fall to sleep but then wake up 3-5 hours later…wide awake.

Bryan
3:54 am March 30th, 2012

When I was in 4th grade, I found out that I was only getting about 30 minutes of cumulative sleep a night. So after many blood tests, the doctor just told my mom to give me melatonin. So for years I took melatonin. Then when I felt like I was tired on my own, I stopped taking it for years (I only took it when I absolutely could not get to sleep for over two hours). I started taking it again last year. I had a job that required me to work at night for so many weeks until I was back on day shift. So I took it most days to help me sleep through the daylight. Then I didn’t take melatonin during the day shifts. Now I am in college and I find myself taking melatonin almost every night. I tried a few nights not taking it and I had a hard time falling asleep. Is that because I go right from working on my computer to bed? Thanks for reading this!

4:18 am March 30th, 2012

Hi Bryan. Thanks for your question. From personal experience, I find that tt’s difficult to re-establish a sleeping pattern after just a few nights off melatonin. And yes, I find that screen time before sleeping can keep my mind active. I remember reading in a yoga and meditation journal that it’s recommended that you stop “working” the mind a few (3) hours before sleep. Although this might not be possible for you, you might also try more exercise in the day. I have no trouble sleeping after running around a bit (playing with my 2 year old son) during the day. But if you’d like to be certain, you can always consult a sleep expert. Do you still work with the same doctors as when you were a child? Also, what’s their opinion about melatonin?

ghaith
7:42 pm May 28th, 2012

hello every one , I have suffered for the last 3 years a chronic form of insomnia that was killing me from inside and especially aggravated by my work schedule that requires me to stay a night for 3 days per week, my diagnosis was general anxiety disorder GAD , but I feel my sleep is perfect , I sleep about 7-8 hrs without interruption but need 2-3 hrs to fall asleep !! , i.e the difficulty is only with the initiation , so this did not meet the criteria of GAD, I think I have delayed sleep phase disorder DSPD according to my experience in sleep problems , for which I will try melatonin plus sleep hygiene , what is the recommended initial dose to start with ? and how to increase the dose if not effective ? and when to take it ? thanks for all

4:22 pm May 29th, 2012

Hi ghaith. My first thought is that, given you CAN fall asleep, to work on making your environment most conducive to sleep. Turning of TV, screens, work, etc. And perhaps even learning a meditation practice. A few lifestyle changes might be what you need.

Low doses of melatonin (0.3 mg and 1.0 mg orally) have been proven to help middle aged test subjects get more REM sleep. But before dosing, I’d suggest that you consult your family doctor for more information.

Does this help?

Cheryl
12:55 am July 3rd, 2012

Hi! I have been taking a low dose of melatonin for years now. I have fibromyalgia and have trouble falling and staying asleep. I am also on a low dose of Flexerill and have been for 12 or 13 years. A few years back (on just the Flexerill) I started having trouble with sleep again, so I added in the melatonin. My question is this – does taking melatonin mess with your body’s ability to produce it’s own melatonin? I read that somewhere and now I am worried about it. Thanks!

5:04 pm July 4th, 2012

Hello Cheryl. Thanks for your question. In its natural form, melatonin is produced by the brain’s pineal gland to regulate the sleep cycle. When the body is working best, the level melatonin in the bloodstream rises sharply, reducing alertness and inviting sleep, and in the morning it falls back, encouraging waking. When needed and taken as a supplement over time, however, the safety of melatonin supplements used over months or even years is unclear.

You can read more here: http://archive.ahrq.gov/news/press/pr2004/melatnpr.htm

Noelle
2:29 am August 5th, 2012

I have been taking melatonin for about 4 months everyday along with ZOLPIDEM I tried once to not take melatonin and could not fall asleep until I did. Previously I was having horrible nightmareswaking me every hour. I, find relief in melatonin. I, just don’t want to become dependent!!

8:04 pm August 5th, 2012

Hi Noelle. What about the zolpidem? How long have you been taking zolpidem to sleep? I might be more concerned about this hypnotic than melatonin as a sleep aid. Also, what does your prescribing doctor say?

Sandra
6:28 pm September 26th, 2012

Hi, I have been using melatonin for five years
I think I am addicted, and want to come off of it
as I have read, it can cause nausea headache
irritability, and I have all of those symptoms. How
should I go about coming off of it? Are there withdrawal
Effects? Thank you for any information

1:08 pm September 27th, 2012

Hi Sandra. First, I would suggest that you check in with your physician or family doctor. You can get current best practice information for coming off melatonin, plus be connected with local resources about sleep problems. The thing is that you may experience “re-bound insomnia” where it’s difficult to sleep, until you find a balance of lifestyle choices that makes sleeping easier. And it might be helpful to seek help also with a sleep clinic or an MD who specializes in sleep issues. Good luck!

Killian
5:35 pm October 5th, 2012

Hi. So my girlfriend has been taking melatonin EVERY night for the past year or two. And as of recently she has had every symptom listed above: headaches, dizziness, nausea. Its at a point where we believe that she may have a brain tumor. I did research, discovered this page and now i need to know. Is this a possible reason for her headaches? Also she had slight blurred vision.

11:06 am October 6th, 2012

Hello Killian. Thanks for your question. I would suggest that you follow your instincts and schedule an appointment with a medical doctor. In terms of use, melatonin labels I have read say that use is not to exceed more than four (4) weeks at any one time, followed by a week of NOT taking melatonin. Headaches can be caused by a number of different medical conditions. To have a baseline idea of what’s happening, perhaps it’s best if your GF stays off the melatonin for some time and check her state of general health.

angi
5:41 am October 12th, 2012

My daughter falls right asleep when given melatonin. Before melatonin she would be up till 3 am easy.

2:55 pm October 12th, 2012

Hi Angi. How old is your daughter? Also, check in on recommendations for dosing. From what Iv’e read, you should not take melatonin for more than two (2) months at a time, with at least one break of a week, or more.

Gianni
3:04 am November 8th, 2012

Very useful piece of information here, thank you everyone. I was actually worried to become a melatonin addicted.
My experience is quite positive about the use of it. It’s 2 am here in Ireland and I couldn’t sleep because I’m taking a break from melatonin….well I actually run out.
Was wondering through the web to find out side effects, addiction etc…and I can confirm that it’s safe to take it for a period of time.
I’m a 40 years old male and I use it, when I’m facing difficult moments of my life and stressed or worried for some reason. It helps me to sleep better and usually have incredible and almost realistic dreams.
Definitely a good sleep aid, but I wouldn’t consider to take it for years.

Well I’m about to renew my supply and I was wondering if there’s any big difference in terms of effects between the 3mg and 10mg tablets. As I’m used to get the 3mg ones and I find them the perfect size or doses.

1:26 pm November 13th, 2012

Hi Gianni,

Check out this paper/article: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK37431/

From what I’ve read, a good nightly dose of melatonin is from 0.3-5 mg before bed. 10 mg doses are used to treat other medical conditions such as cancer, tardive dyskinesia, thrombocytopenia, or prevention of cluster headaches.

Colleen
8:42 pm December 9th, 2012

I was taking melatonin for a year and a half because I needed to fall asleep sooner, wake up sooner. As soon as I got a new job where it didn’t require me to go bed earlier, wake up earlier, I stopped taking Melatonin. I am now suffering from sleep maintenance insomnia, and I am thinking that it’s because I stopped taking melatonin. Any insight?

10:26 am December 10th, 2012

Hi Colleen. Yes – exercise (45 minutes to an hour) every day has helped me. Also, I’ve had great success with herbal homeopathic combinations for relaxation and sleep. Meditation can also help. And acupuncture. I’d suggest that you make a few lifestyle adjustments and see if anything works.

sam schwarzbart
5:28 pm February 3rd, 2013

I’ve been taking 10 mg of melatonin for the last couple of months, as it takes me 1 to 3 hours to fall asleep. I decided not to take it 2 nights ago and wound up awake in bed for 8 hours, then sleeping about 4 hours.
Last night I didn’t take it again, and even though I was quite tired, still couldn’t sleep and wound up taking a clonozipam at 3 AM. I have a small supply of this drug for nights when I’m having a lot of trouble getting to sleep (about once a week) and it takes 4 or more hours to get to sleep.
I try not to take the clonozipam often and I think the last 2 nights insomnia are at least in part caused by my stopping the melatonin

sam schwarzbart
6:01 pm February 11th, 2013

Thanks for the info. I still believe that in my case, there was a dependancy. I decided to stop using it, and went through 2 nights of terrible sleep, including a night when it took 8 hours to fall asleep.
I have been drinking a cup of hot or warm milk at bedtime, and have been falling asleep much faster than if I were taking the melatonin.

I’ll be continuing the warm milk remedy and ditching the melatonin. It just wasn’t for me

Jake
9:21 am November 8th, 2013

I fell as though im addicted to melatonin, its very very hard to sleep i wont sleep at all without it and my mom hates me taking it because i can sleep all day so she hid it from me today and now i feel weird like i NEED it i feel agrivated that she hid or did whatever with it but i feel weird i usually smoke marijuana to help me
Sleep but i cant now that im on probation for it soni started this and now i cant even feel tored without it :( so weird i hate this feeling!!! Its like
I need it

kathy
11:59 pm November 11th, 2013

I have been taking 10 grams of melatonin and have been having horrible dreams of crashing to my death, being attacked, being lost, trying to scream and no sound will come out of my mouth. I have been trying to stop taking it for the last month but then I could absolutely not sleep. I tookonly 5 mg last night and went to work this morning on about 40 minutes of sleep. I plan on taking 5 mg again tonight and am hoping I am able to get some more sleep. Here’s hoping I can sleep again without ANYmelatonin

1:51 pm November 12th, 2013

Hello Kathy. I wish you the best of luck! There are a few things that you can try to get the mind tired enough to sleep. After all, it’s the activity of the mind that keeps us awake. You can practice heart rhythm meditation, or even alternate nostril breathing. Let me know if you’re interested and I’ll refer you to some practices.

Chris
1:31 pm January 6th, 2014

Hey. I’ve been taking 6 mg of melatonin for everyday for the past 6 months. Before the 6 months I was sleeping relatively okay but I would always have trouble falling asleep. And I started thinking that I want to get back to going to sleep naturally. So I’ve taken 3mg of melatonin the past two nights, to try and ween myself off, and I’ve woken up after 5 and a half hours of sleep feeling awake and ready to go. This is different from my usual 8 hours thanks to the 6mg. So I’m just wondering if its possible to go back to sleeping regularly, full 8 hours, without the melatonin, or if my body has stopped, and will never be able to again naturally produce the melatonin I need to go back to sleep because my body became accustomed to the increased melatonin supply?

Wendy
8:28 am June 12th, 2014

I work in the restaurant industry; late, long and odd hours. I do take adderall for ADHD but take it on a regular basis and appropriately (side note: adderall has been nothing but positive for me; it’s not just adderall but an overall understanding of ADHD and the benefits of adderal with self eqvualation value the sleep I can get so I started taking Advil PM… I shifted to just melatonin

Brian
8:31 pm July 30th, 2014

I took 3mg of melatonin nightly from 2002 to 2012 with no noticeable side effects. In 2012, I switched to 0.3mg nightly after reading research by an MIT professor that suggested that a 0.3mg dose is closer to a person’s normal production and is usually better than a 3mg dose. However, I’ve struggled to completely stop taking melatonin supplements. My concern is that my body can no longer produce melatonin naturally after so many years of taking supplements. Please let me know if anyone has any suggestions or relevant information.

felix
2:11 am August 11th, 2014

I have been taking 1mg prolonged release melatonin for several months. When i don’t take it one day i still have a good night sleep. Hhowever, the best day i will usually have and early morning wake up after three sleep hours worth very little sleep afterwards. If i don’t get at least seven hours of sleep i start slowly to fatigue until a few days later where i will completely be fatigue.

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