Melatonin: Is it safe for women and children? It’s all anyone ever talks about.
It’s a hormone involved in regulating the sleep-wake cycle. Recently, melatonin has gained A LOT of popularity as an over the counter sleep aid or supplement.
It is important to understand the potential side effects and safety considerations associated with its use in different groups, including adults, pregnant women, and children and for you to feel empowered with the evidence. Fun fact, did you know that you need a prescription for melatonin in the UK?
One of the first questions I often encounter from my clients is about the use and safety of melatonin. Sometimes this is shared with a sense of embarrassment for the use of a supplement when all everyone wants is to sleep and FEEL rested! There is no shame in the sleep game friends!
What IS Melatonin?
Melatonin is a hormone naturally produced by the pineal gland in the brain. It plays a crucial role in regulating the sleep-wake cycle, also known as the circadian rhythm. The body's melatonin production is influenced by environmental cues, primarily light exposure, with levels increasing in the evening to promote sleep and decreasing in the morning to signal wakefulness.
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Melatonin in Adults-Understanding Melatonin as a Sleep Aid
For adults, the use of a melatonin sleep aid is generally considered safe when used appropriately and for short periods. Mild side effects, such as drowsiness, headache, dizziness, and stomach discomfort, may occur but are usually temporary (Zisapel, 2018). Long-term safety data is limited, so caution is advised for prolonged or high-dose use (Costello & Cockburn, 2015). It is also important to consider potential interactions with other medications and underlying health conditions, and consulting a healthcare professional is recommended (Zisapel, 2018).
Melatonin can be a useful tool in promoting better sleep and managing sleep disorders when used judiciously and under appropriate guidance. Due to its ability to regulate sleep patterns, the use of a melatonin supplement is becoming more common for treating jet lag, insomnia, and as a sleep aid for shift workers (ahem, nurse and healthcare workers) with the hopes that it will improve their sleep quality and reduce the time it takes to fall asleep. As with any medication or supplement, it is crucial to consider individual circumstances and consult a healthcare professional before starting melatonin, especially if you have underlying medical conditions, take medications, or are pregnant or breastfeeding.
Remember, the goal of using melatonin should be to improve sleep quality and align with healthier sleep habits, rather than relying solely on the supplement.
What To Consider?
Short-Term Use: When used appropriately and for short periods of time, melatonin is generally considered safe for most adults.
Side Effects: While melatonin is generally well-tolerated, some individuals may experience mild side effects such as drowsiness, headache, dizziness, and stomach discomfort. These side effects are usually temporary and subside with continued use or dosage adjustment.
Long-Term Safety: Long-term safety data for melatonin is limited, especially in terms of high-dose or prolonged use. As a precautionary measure, it is advisable to limit the long-term use of melatonin unless specifically recommended by a healthcare professional that you trust.
Hormonal Interactions: Melatonin can potentially interact with certain hormonal medications, including birth control pills, hormone replacement therapy, and some medications used in fertility treatments.
Individual Variations: It is worth noting that individuals may respond differently to melatonin due to factors such as age, underlying health conditions, and medication use. Therefore, it is important to approach its use with caution and monitor your individual response. If you are taking medication or other supplements, it is important to consult your healthcare provider before starting melatonin.
Remember, the goal of using melatonin should be to improve sleep quality and align with healthier sleep habits, rather than relying solely on the supplement. Maintaining a consistent sleep schedule, creating a conducive sleep environment, and practicing good sleep hygiene are essential components of healthy sleep.
Using Melatonin While Pregnant-Is it Safe for Mom and Baby?
Pregnancy is a time when we all prioritize health and wellness. Because more and more women are looking towards melatonin as a sleep aid or supplement, read on below as we shed a little light on the current scientific knowledge available.
So, melatonin-is it safe for women and children? During pregnancy, the safety of melatonin is uncertain due to limited research. Melatonin's potential hormonal interference and its effect on fetal development are areas of concern. As a precautionary measure, it is generally recommended to avoid melatonin use unless specifically advised by a healthcare professional. Non-pharmacological approaches to sleep improvement should be prioritized, and consultation with a healthcare provider is essential before starting any new medications or supplements during pregnancy (Costello & Cockburn, 2015; Andersen et al., 2020).
Potential Side Effects
Hormonal Interference: Melatonin is a hormone that can potentially interfere with the delicate hormonal balance required during pregnancy. While there is limited evidence regarding melatonin's direct effects on pregnancy hormones, it is advisable to exercise caution and consult with a healthcare professional before using melatonin during pregnancy.
Fetal Development: As melatonin crosses the placenta, there is concern that its use during pregnancy might affect fetal development. Animal studies have shown conflicting results, with some suggesting potential adverse effects on reproductive development. However, there is a lack of comprehensive human studies to draw definitive conclusions.
Sleep Patterns of the Baby: Melatonin can potentially influence the sleep patterns of the developing baby. The introduction of exogenous melatonin through maternal use may affect the natural production of melatonin in the baby, which could impact their sleep-wake cycle. Further research is needed to understand the long-term consequences of this potential disruption. Keep in mind that your baby’s own natural melatonin production doesn’t begin until 8-12 weeks of age.
Maternal Adaptation: Pregnancy itself brings about significant changes in sleep patterns due to hormonal fluctuations and physical discomfort. The decision to use melatonin should consider the potential risks and benefits, weighing them against non-pharmacological sleep strategies.
Alternatives and Non-Pharmacological Approaches
During pregnancy, it is generally recommended to prioritize non-pharmacological approaches to sleep improvement. These can include maintaining a regular sleep schedule, practicing relaxation techniques like prenatal yoga or meditation, journaling, mindfulness practices, CBT, creating a comfortable sleep environment, and managing common discomforts associated with pregnancy. Take a peak at a recent blog where we talk about postpartum holistic sleep strategies.
Melatonin for Children
Like with us adults, the hormone melatonin helps regulate the sleep-wake cycle, signaling the body when it's time to sleep. The newborn baby won’t begin to naturally produce melatonin until around 8-12 weeks of age.
In children, melatonin levels typically increase in the evening and decrease in the morning, aligning with their natural sleep patterns.
Potential Side Effects
Drowsiness and Morning Grogginess: The most commonly reported side effect of melatonin use in children is drowsiness, which can extend into the following day, leading to morning grogginess. It is crucial to administer melatonin at an appropriate time, one to two hours before bedtime, to ensure that it aligns with the child's sleep schedule and allows for a sufficient duration of sleep.
Changes in Mood or Behavior: Some children may experience changes in mood or behavior after taking melatonin. These can include irritability, restlessness, vivid dreams, or nightmares. While these effects are generally mild and temporary, it is important to monitor your child's response and discontinue use if concerning symptoms persist.
Hormonal Interference: Melatonin is a hormone, and the long-term effects of manipulating natural hormone levels in developing children are not yet fully understood. It is advisable to limit the use of melatonin to short-term interventions and under the guidance of a healthcare professional.
Dependency and Tolerance: Concerns have been raised regarding the potential for melatonin dependence or the development of tolerance over time. To mitigate these risks, it is recommended to use melatonin intermittently and as a tool to address temporary sleep disruptions rather than relying on it as a long-term solution.
Individualized Approach and Non-Pharmacological Pediatric Strategies
It is important to prioritize non-pharmacological strategies for promoting healthy sleep, such as maintaining consistent sleep schedules, creating a comfortable sleep environment, and implementing relaxation techniques. Behavioral interventions and addressing underlying sleep disturbances should be explored before considering melatonin as a sleep aid (Gringras et al., 2012; Zisapel, 2018).
In all cases, consulting with a healthcare professional is paramount. They can provide personalized guidance, assess individual circumstances, and help determine the best course of action. Healthcare professionals can offer expertise in sleep medicine, pediatrics, or obstetrics, depending on the population in question. Their input is invaluable in assessing risks and benefits, monitoring side effects, and ensuring overall well-being (Costello & Cockburn, 2015; Andersen et al., 2020; Gringras et al., 2012).
We are in this together!
Melatonin can be a useful tool in promoting better sleep and managing sleep disturbances, but its safety considerations differ among populations. Adults should follow recommended dosage instructions and be mindful of potential interactions. Pregnant women should generally avoid melatonin unless specifically recommended by a healthcare professional. For children, non-pharmacological approaches should be explored first, with melatonin considered only under professional guidance. Prioritizing an individualized approach, seeking professional advice, and focusing on comprehensive sleep strategies are key to ensuring the well-being of each unique population.
If you are you tired of tossing and turning night after night, desperately seeking the elusive gift of sleep, then t's time to take control of your sleep and revitalize your life! Discover the expertise and guidance of our professional sleep consultants who understand the unique sleep challenges of new families.
We are armed with the latest research, evidence-based strategies, and personalized approaches to help you overcome insomnia, night awakenings, and other sleep disturbances. With our proven techniques and expert advice, you can unlock the secrets to deep, restorative sleep.
About The Mama Co-Op
As a perinatal/pediatric sleep coach certified in perinatal mental health and an extensive background as a pediatric nurse, I’ve noticed that a lot of my clients are currently or in the process of overcoming postpartum mood disorders. That’s why it’s so important for me to normalize these symptoms and open up the dialogue in a safe space while offering the systems and resources that these families so desperately need. With all of my pregnancies, I experienced postpartum depression and wish that I could have had access and knowledge to all of the resources that are available now.
Working as a sleep consultant is more than sleep. It’s about supporting the parent and the child. It’s a collaborative effort with each family that will result in peaceful sleep and ultimately, rest.
So much of what we read and see online and hear from others is overwhelming and creates confusion. Everything we do together will be focused on helping you sift through that information and trust your gut. We will get through this together. Parenting is hard, no matter the stage, and you aren’t alone in this adventure. I see you doing your best and still feeling like you aren’t doing a good enough job. But know this, up until this point you have been doing all that you can to get through each day and there’s NO shame in that. Now, let’s get you and your family growing and thriving.
Schedule a free sleep consultation with a consultant specialized in perinatal mental health here.
This blog post is for informational purposes only and should not be considered as medical advice. Please consult with a healthcare professional before starting any new medications or supplements, especially during pregnancy or when considering the use of sleep aids in children. Every individual is unique, and personalized guidance is essential for making informed decisions about sleep health.
Andersen, L. P., Gögenur, I., Rosenberg, J., & Reiter, R. J. (2020). The safety of melatonin in humans. Clinical Drug Investigation, 40(8), 747-756.
Costello, R. B., & Cockburn, M. G. (2015). Melatonin. Treasure Island, FL: StatPearls Publishing.
Gringras, P., Gamble, C., Jones, A. P., Wiggs, L., Williamson, P. R., & Sutcliffe, A. (2012). Melatonin for sleep problems in children with neurodevelopmental disorders: Randomised double masked placebo controlled trial. BMJ, 345, e6664.
Zisapel, N. (2018). New perspectives on the role of melatonin in human sleep, circadian rhythms and their regulation. British Journal of Pharmacology, 175(16), 3190-3199.