Melatonin use for sleep is on the rise, side effects may be dangerous

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New research finds that U.S. adults took twice as much melatonin for sleep in 2018 than they did a decade before. stock_colors/Getty Images
  • A good night’s sleep is essential for good physical health, cognitive performance, and emotional functioning. Numerous sleep studies have documented these facts over time.
  • More and more adults are taking over-the-counter (OTC) melatonin preparations to get a better night’s rest, but some of them may be taking this substance at dangerously high levels, a new study finds.
  • Experts worry that the coronavirus pandemic’s negative effect on sleep has further increased the reliance on melatonin and other sleeping aids.

In the recent study, researchers obtained data from ten cycles of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), covering the years 1999 through 2018. This study included 55,021 adults, 52% of whom were women. The participants had a mean age of 47.5 years.

The results showed that in 2018, adults in the United States took more than twice the amount of this sleep aid than they did a decade earlier, which may pose a health risk in some individuals.

The study revealed that melatonin use increased from 0.4% in 1999–2000 to 2.1% in 2017–2018, with the increase beginning in 2009–2010.

The study was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), and the lead author is Dr. Jingen Li, Ph.D., of Beijing University of Chinese Medicine.

The study evaluated adults who took melatonin at the recommended dosage of 5 milligrams per day (mg/d), as well as those who exceeded that dosage. Before 2005–2006, the authors found that users did not report taking more than 5 mg/d, but the prevalence of taking more than 5 mg/d went from 0.08% in 2005–2006 to 0.28% in 2017–2018.

Although the overall use of melatonin in the U.S. is still relatively low, the study does “document a significant many-fold increase in melatonin use in the past few years,” according to sleep specialist Rebecca Robbins, Ph.D., who is an instructor in the division of sleep medicine at Harvard Medical School and was not involved in this study.

Dr. Robbins told Medical News Today:

“Taking sleep aids has been linked to prospective studies with the development of dementia and early mortality. Melatonin is one such sleep aid.”

The body’s biological clock regulates hormonal fluctuations, which evolve over a person’s lifespan. As a result, aging

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Mai Yang, a communicable disease specialist, searches for Angelica, a 27 year-old pregnant woman who tested positive for syphilis, in order to get her treated before she delivers her baby.

Talia Herman for ProPublica


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Talia Herman for ProPublica


Mai Yang, a communicable disease specialist, searches for Angelica, a 27 year-old pregnant woman who tested positive for syphilis, in order to get her treated before she delivers her baby.

Talia Herman for ProPublica

When Mai Yang is looking for a patient, she travels light. She dresses deliberately — not too formal, so she won’t be mistaken for a police officer; not too casual, so people will look past her tiny 4-foot-10 stature and youthful face and trust her with sensitive health information. Always, she wears closed-toed shoes, “just in case I need to run.”

This story comes from ProPublica, a nonprofit newsroom that investigates abuses of power. Sign up to receive their biggest stories as soon as they’re published.

Yang carries a stack of cards issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that show what happens when the Treponema pallidum bacteria invades a patient’s body. There’s a photo of an angry red sore on a penis. There’s one of a tongue, marred by mucus-lined lesions. And there’s one of a newborn baby, its belly, torso and thighs dotted in a rash, its mouth open, as if caught midcry.

It was because of the prospect of one such baby that Yang found herself walking through a homeless encampment on a blazing July day in Huron, Calif., an hour’s drive southwest of her office at the Fresno County Department of Public Health.

She was looking for a pregnant woman named Angelica, whose visit to a community clinic had triggered a report to the health department’s sexually transmitted disease program. Angelica had tested positive for syphilis. If she was not treated, her baby could end up like the one in the picture or worse — there was a 40% chance the baby would die.

Yang knew, though, that if she helped Angelica get treated with three weekly shots of penicillin at least 30 days before she gave birth, it was likely that the infection would be wiped out and her baby would be born without any symptoms at all. Every case of congenital syphilis, when a baby is born with the disease, is avoidable. Each is considered a

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