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If you are fed up with your chronic insomnia, you may consider melatonin pills. They are a great way to help treat those seepless nights but there are some important risks with these rewards you must be aware of before taking them.

If you have been suffering from insomnia like 38.6 percent of the population, melatonin pills may be a natural sleep aid that you considered for your chronic insomnia treatment [1]. They are an easy over-the-counter supplement you can find in most drug stores and they have some obvious benefits. Melatonin is something your body needs in order to fall asleep and if levels are too low, it will be hard for you to relax and fall asleep at night [2]. A synthetic analog of melatonin will provide your body with a boost to help tire yourself out enough to sleep through the night. The question is, are these pills safe? 

The Benefits of Taking Melatonin Pills 

Melatonin is a natural compound that is produced in our brains to help us sleep. In certain patients suffering from excessive stress, depression, or other underlying psychiatric disorder, it will become harder and harder to find quality sleep as patients age. Melatonin levels naturally drop as a person ages because the demand for sleep in no longer as important because you are no longer growing or restoring damaged tissues like a younger version of you once did [3].  As a person ages, his quality of sleep will decline and a natural sleep aid is the first line treatment to alleviate these symptoms.  

In one research investigation, researchers determined that a dose of melatonin has no affect on the sleep cycle of a healthy adult but if the patient already had lower levels of melatonin, an oral dose of melatonin significantly improved their onset of sleep, quality of sleep, and decreased the number of times they would awake throughout the night.  It was found that a dose of 0.3mg dose was the ideal strength for the subjects. [4]

Melatonin pills also provide another significant benefit because they can replace the use of medications like benzodiazepines that are traditionally the first-line treatment with chronic insomnia. Benzodiazepines have a number of significant side effects like rebound insomnia once discontinued, tolerance, and anterograde amnesia to name a few. It is paramount for physicians to discontinue these medications as quickly as possible in treatments to reduce the risk of these more serious conditions.[5

A study done to determine if melatonin was a good substitute for chronic insomnia showed that patients did not report a significant difference in their quality of sleep between the two medications. This suggests that at high benzodiazepine doses, melatonin can give the same benefits of improved sleep without the same panel of side effects that can occur. [see 5] 

Side Effects of Melatonin Pills 

The side effects of melatonin can greatly influence the use of melatonin as a chronic insomnia treatment option.

Although vastly considered to be a safe product, local drug stores often sell melatonin in dosages that can be ten times more potent than what our body needs physiologically. A proper dosage is 0.3mg with a maximum dose of 1mg. As an OTC, melatonin can be purchased at doses as high as 10mg.

Although researchers are divided on the long-term effects of this increased dose, all agree that melatonin cannot be fatal. Evidence suggests that if a patient takes high-doses of melatonin for a prolonged period of time, he will likely need to take higher doses because he changed the effect of melatonin. This occurs because melatonin in a natural hormone produced by your body in order to help you fall asleep. If you continue to take high doses for a prolonged period of time, receptors in your brain that react when melatonin binds will tire out and no longer be effective. [6,7]

Melatonin has a panel of side effects that is common in many medications. With melatonin, a user can expect to experience headaches, insomnia, rashes and upper stomach disturbances. Studies conducted in animals suggest that melatonin may have more harmful effects on a pediatric population because it suppresses a hormone responsible for causing puberty. If this hormone is blocked, hypogonadism and delayed puberty resulted meaning that children could be shorter and will not develop their sex organs in the same manner than a patient not relying on melatonin will if taken at high doses [8].  In the United States alone, approximately 500,000 children are thought to routinely take melatonin as a means of falling asleep, so there could be a future risk to this population [see 6]. As a medical doctor I would advise parents to try to remedy their children's sleep problems with melatonin rich foods, such as nuts and diary products, instead of supplementing with melatonin pills. 

Research suggests that most side effects of melatonin are caused by improper timing of when you self-medicate. Patients can take low-levels of melatonin and have the same results as a patient taking a higher dose if they take it 2-4 hours before falling asleep. Patients that take a higher dose of melatonin 30 minutes before bedtime were found to complain the most about insomnia, non-restorative sleep, and tiredness the same day. As long as you are cognizant of your daily routine, you will be able to take melatonin effectively with no clear long-term risk. [8]

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