More people are taking melatonin to help fall asleep. Use it with caution, local sleep specialist warns

Posted at 7:31 AM, Feb 16, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-16 09:47:27-05

If you don't take it, the chances are you probably know someone who does.

A study released earlier this month found that, as of 2017-18, more than 2.1 percent of surveyed U.S. adults said they've used melatonin for help falling asleep; around five times as many as those in the 2009-2010 period.

Dr. Vandana Dhawan says she wasn't surprised to hear those numbers.

"Especially since COVID, we have seen a marked increase in the level of melatonin (use)," said Dr. Dhawan, who runs the Sleep Lab at Sleep Specialists of Tidewater, a Bayview Physicians Group practice. "Right now more than 2 million Americans are using melatonin on a regular basis."

Dr. Dhawan tells News 3 that taking melatonin only adds to the brain's natural production of the hormone, which helps prepare the body for sleep.

While short-term use can be beneficial and helpful, she says, extended use is where things get murky.

"There's no long-term studies on the safety of melatonin so if you're trying to use it for a short period of time, like for a couple months, two to three months, it's okay. but I would not suggest using it for years and years," she said. "We do not know the long-term effects."

Dr. Dhawan suggests the following to help get your body ready for bedtime:

  • Darken your environment two hours before bedtime and avoid bright light, sunlight, etc.
  • Avoid computers, phone screens and anything else that produces blue light, which can slow your natural melatonin production. At the very least, filter the blue light.
  • Turn off the TV an hour before bed or, if you leave it on, stay more than six feet away from the screen.
  • Don't worry too much about being able to fall asleep quickly.

"You need rest for your brain and the rest of your organs and your whole body needs to rest, but, on the same note, I would say people should not start to feel too anxious about not getting these many hours of sleep because it's a natural thing and the more anxiety you build around it, the less sleep you're going to get," said Dr. Dhawan.

Another suggestion — She says get into the sun in the morning to help wake up. It will also help set your body up for strong melatonin production later in the evening.