Want to try melatonin but afraid of nightmares? This side effect might be just a myth. Read details in this article.
People often call melatonin a “hormone of sleep.” The body produces it naturally in the pineal gland. This is a tiny, round organ that situates in the center of your brain. The center is responsible for using serotonin that helps to regulate your sleep cycle.
Melatonin is a derivative of serotonin. That means your endocrine system synthesizes melatonin from serotonin. This hormone is vital for your circadian rhythm, so it helps you wake up and fall asleep every day. Some companies even advertise melatonin as a sleep aid. The supplements of this hormone help you sleep at night.
Many research says that melatonin helps you sleep if taken externally. However, other studies state that melatonin causes vivid and weird dreams that don’t happen when you sleep without melatonin intake. Let’s look at how melatonin influences your sleep and why it causes nightmares as a side effect.
Benefits of Melatonin
Melatonin has a vital role in a good night’s sleep. Before we talk about melatonin and nightmares, we will get deeper into its proven positive effects. Many clinical studies showed that melatonin is effective against many sleep-related conditions.
There is evidence that melatonin can help people have better sleep quality. In 2013, researchers conducted a meta-analysis of 19 studies that consisted of 1,683 people. These studies researched the effects of melatonin on sleep quality in people with insomnia.
These studies found that melatonin can improve sleep quality, decrease the time people need to fall asleep, and increase total sleep time.
Delayed Sleep-Wake Phase Disorder (DSWPD)
DSWPD is a disorder of circadian rhythm in which a person has a shifted sleep schedule, often several hours. This “night owl” schedule might be detrimental if the person has to wake up early, for example, to work or school. Low doses of melatonin before bedtime can help people sleep at the desired time.
Melatonin may help combat symptoms of many diseases, such as autism spectrum disorders, Alzheimer’s disease, high blood pressure, and insomnia. Taking extra melatonin can help them support physical structures in the brain that promote a natural circadian rhythm. After this, they have more chances to have better REM sleep and more vivid dreams.
If you travel rapidly across different time zones, the body’s internal clock becomes misaligned. The local day-night cycle is different from the given, so it is hard to fall asleep at night. Melatonin supplements help people fall asleep at local night time and thus fight jet lag. Many people report a benefit of melatonin intake in such situations.
Melatonin in Children
Melatonin can help both adults and children to fight sleeping problems. According to the research, it can help children fall asleep more quickly and improve their total time sleeping. It might be useful as a short-term tool that helps children adjust to a better sleep schedule and establish better sleep habits.
Also, children with epilepsy can benefit from melatonin. Children with autism spectrum disorder and other neurodevelopmental disorders can experience the positive effect of melatonin. However, the influence of melatonin on children is not fully studied yet. In any case, it’s better to consult your doctor before melatonin intake.
Can Melatonin Cause Nightmares?
Melatonin and REM
During sleep, we have plenty of sleep cycles. One of its most vital parts is rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, which helps us process information that we gathered in the daytime. It is like the computer disc defragmentation, as the brain erases “unnecessary” memories and positively restructures information. It helps new thoughts and creativity.
During REM sleep, we see the most vivid memories that we can remember the next morning. When REM sleep starts, melatonin releases vasotocin. This substance can help your brain erase memories at night. If you take an extra amount of melatonin, there is more vasotocin, too. This situation leads to longer periods of sleep that erases memories and produces intense dreams.
So, melatonin indeed helps to have better sleep, but the quantity and vividness of dreams can increase. These dreams don’t have to be nightmares, but melatonin can cause unusual and strange dreams that you usually don’t have.
Nightmares After Melatonin
There are lots of studies that show the benefits of melatonin. Still, there exists other research saying that melatonin can make nightmares more frequent. In 2015 research, scientists found a possible link between melatonin and nightmares. A person with insomnia started taking medication ramelteon, which allowed melatonin to promote a natural sleep cycle.
Sometime after this, a person reported having intense nightmares. After they stopped ramelteon intake, such dreams disappeared. Still, there are no direct proofs that melatonin causes nightmares in this case. The link still is not clear, so this suggestion needs more research.
Melatonin Against Nightmares
Some of today’s research says that excessive intake of melatonin can cause unusual dreams or nightmares. However, there was a study that looked at melatonin differently. The researchers found people who had frightening dreams and were hearing things at night. After taking 5 milligrams of melatonin, these visions disappeared. Also, researchers found out that 5 mg of delayed-release melatonin can help reduce the frequency of hallucinations. So, in some cases, melatonin helps to get rid of nightmares, not vice versa.
Side Effects of Melatonin
Except for possible nightmares, melatonin can have other side effects that don’t happen often but still may occur. The most often side effect is daytime sleepiness. This is not quite a side effect because this is the natural influence of melatonin. After all, it should induce sleep. If you feel sleepy in the daytime, that means that you take extra melatonin, and you are prone to sleep better at night. Still, if you experience this side effect, talk to your doctor. You might have too high a dosage of melatonin.
Other side effects of melatonin can include:
- drop in body temperature
- low blood pressure
- feeling disoriented or confused
- feeling less alert
- abdominal cramps
- shaking in your hands
Before taking melatonin, consider which medications you already use. Melatonin can interact with them, especially sleeping pills, and affect your muscle response and memory. That may make some tasks more difficult, for example, driving. Melatonin can also thin your blood and increase the effect of blood thinners such as warfarin.
How to Choose Appropriate Dose of Melatonin?
So, you decided in favor of melatonin. Indeed, it might help you sleep more soundly and increase your sleep quality, but you should mind the dosage when you start your melatonin intake.
The optimal dose of melatonin often varies from expert to expert. Still, all of them advise not to take extremely high doses. The appropriate amount ranges from .1 to 12 mg. In general, the dosage is from one to three milligrams, but the amount always depends on age, sleeping problems, or other factors.
If you decided to take melatonin, start from the lowest dosage and increase it under your doctor’s supervision. Do not try taking melatonin without consulting a doctor. Remember that melatonin is not harmless because it can raise natural melatonin concentration from 3 to 60 times, so be cautious before deciding on the dose.
In children, doses above 3-6 mg are undesirable. Usually, young people respond well to .1 to .5 mg doses. The adults can also benefit from such dosages.
How to Choose Your Melatonin Supplements
According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), melatonin is a dietary supplement, not a medication. That means it’s unregulated on the market. Many brands produce melatonin nowadays, so you should know how to choose. They might have inaccuracies in dosage information, so research your product before buying it. Misusing melatonin might cause significant side effects.
Also, melatonin aids can have other compounds, for example, magnesium, serotonin, valerian root, or others, which may affect its dosage accuracy and even have health risks. Because this drug is not regulated, such labels as “certified” or “verified” do not guarantee safety. You are safer if the product has certification from USP, NSF International Dietary Supplement program, or ConsumerLab.com.
Melatonin is a natural hormone that our brain emits to regulate our circadian rhythms and sleep cycles. It helps us fall asleep and have REM sleep that refreshes us. There are many positive sides to melatonin intake. It can be helpful for people with insomnia, jet lag, and some other diseases; children can also benefit from melatonin.
Certain studies have shown that melatonin can cause nightmares, although this information needs further studies. This is one of the possible side effects and not a constant feature. Other side effects might include anxiety, headaches, depression, daytime sleepiness, shaking in your hands. Before taking melatonin, research supplements, and make sure they are safe. Also, take melatonin only after the doctor’s supervision.