According to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association this week, a growing number of Americans have turned to melatonin to try to get some much-needed rest. The researchers used data from the 1999-2000 through 2017-2018 cycles of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), which is a series of cross-sectional sample surveys of the US population. From these data, it was interpreted that melatonin consumption among American adults increased « significantly » during this period.
Melatonin is a hormone produced naturally by the pineal gland in the brain. It helps govern the circadian rhythm, the natural regulation of the 24-hour sleep-wake cycle. Specifically, melatonin levels increase the darker it gets outside, which helps signal the body that it’s almost time to sleep. Melatonin supplements work the same way as the real thing and are widely used as an over-the-counter way to help people get z’s.
Researchers found that the weighted prevalence of melatonin use increased from 0.4% in 1999-2000 to 2.1% in 2017-2018, marking 2009-2010 as the period when the increase began. The increase was seen across all demographic groups. The researchers collected data from 55,021 adults, with an average age of 47. The number of participants involved in each cycle ranged from 4,865 to 6,214.
The study also found that melatonin was not only consumed by more people, but also in higher doses. The prevalence of melatonin use greater than 5 milligrams per day—some older research has found that the recommended intake of melatonin to aid sleep is 0.3 milligrams, even though most melatonin tablets sold contain at least 3 milligrams, rising from 0.08% in 2005-2006 to 0.28% in 2017 -2018. This seems to be one of the main takeaways from the results, given that the actual amount of melatonin in store-bought supplements may contain 478% more than what is listed on the package label, according to the same researchers. (The U.S. Food and Drug Administration doesn’t regulate supplements to ensure they’re safe or provide the strength—or even the exact ingredients—that are advertised. That’s why it’s always a good idea to speak to a doctor if you can before incorporating a new supplement into your daily routine.)
Although the results suggest that melatonin consumption has increased in the United States, it is still considered low. However, this growth in use was enough for the researchers to recommend establishing « stronger evidence » on the safety and impacts of taking melatonin long-term, as very little research on long-term use term and high dose use of melatonin is available.
Melatonin supplements are generally considered safe, according to Mayo Clinic. Many people who take it might choose it over sleeping pills because it is a hormone produced naturally by the body. But that doesn’t mean consuming it in supplement form is risk-free, no matter how small. According to the Mayo Clinic, potential side effects of melatonin can include headaches, dizziness, nausea, and daytime sleepiness. There is also concern that melatonin may affect the immune system in a way that exacerbates autoimmune disorders, which is why some medical organizations, such as the Mayo Clinic, recommend avoiding the supplement if you have an autoimmune condition. Additionally, since melatonin is one of the key hormones influencing the circadian rhythm, taking too much melatonin or taking it at the wrong time can mean you run the risk of disrupting your body’s natural physical, mental, and behavioral cycle.
Some of the limitations of the study include a lack of reliable data on usage across all ethnic groups and in people under 20, as well as a lack of data on why people took the supplement. (for example, anxiety). Although supplement containers were verified by researchers, supplement consumption in the study was self-reported, meaning participants were not monitored by researchers in person, which may leave some margin for error. ‘error.