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The truth about melatonin supplements for insomnia

I'm pretty active on Twitter (if you're on there, you can follow me here).

One thing I see on there (a lot) is people complaining about their insomnia.

That's fine (it's always good to vent).

However, I also see a lot of replies from people who then recommend melatonin supplements.

In most cases, I'm not a fan of melatonin supplements as a treatment for insomnia.

Here are the facts:

  • At night, we naturally produce melatonin to prepare the body for sleep,
  • Melatonin helps to regulate our internal body clock,
  • As we age, we produce less melatonin.

Therefore, the idea that increasing our intake of melatonin will help us sleep makes sense.

​However, there isn't much in the way of evidence to support the idea that melatonin supplements are an effective treatment for insomnia.

Furthermore, we don't yet know whether taking melatonin supplements over the long term affects our body's natural ability to produce the hormone.

Melatonin supplements have also been linked with a number of side-effects such as high blood pressure, vertigo, sleep walking, vivid dreams, decreased sperm count and male breast swelling.

When we look at clinical studies, melatonin supplements have only been shown to help improve insomnia symptoms in the elderly.

That's not to say melatonin supplements have no value for anyone else - they can be helpful when it comes to sleep disturbance due to issues other than insomnia.

Specifically:

  • Jet leg (particularly when traveling East and across at least five timezones),
  • Circadian rhythm sleep disorders (such as delayed sleep phase disorder),
  • Overstimulation due to ADHD.

To conclude: Melatonin supplements may be helpful when sleep is disrupted due to issues with your internal body clock.

If you're suffering from chronic insomnia, melatonin supplements are unlikely to help (but you may get some benefits from the placebo effect).

Finally, it's worth mentioning that although melatonin supplements are available over the counter in the United States, they are prescription-only in a number of other countries, including the United Kingdom and Australia.

If you're looking for a permanent solution to your insomnia, take a look at my free online sleep training course.

Source: Dr. Gifford-Jones, Windsor Star

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Last updated: November 5, 2015

This Article Was Written By

Martin Reed

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