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Can melatonin be addictive?

What is melatonin?

Melatonin is a hormone produced naturally by the pineal gland in the brain. It helps regulate your sleep-wake cycle. Melatonin production increases in the evening as it gets dark outside, making you feel sleepy. It decreases in the morning when it’s light out, helping you wake up.

Melatonin supplements are sometimes used to treat insomnia and jet lag. When taken as directed, melatonin is generally safe for short-term use. However, there are concerns that it could potentially lead to dependence or addiction with long-term use.

Is melatonin addictive?

The research on whether melatonin can be addictive is limited. However, there are a few reasons why experts caution against taking melatonin supplements long-term:

Tolerance and withdrawal

Some studies show that taking melatonin regularly may cause your body to develop a tolerance and become less responsive to its effects. This means you need a higher dose to get the same sleep-promoting benefits.

Suddenly stopping melatonin after taking it long-term can also lead to mild withdrawal symptoms like headaches, anxiety, irritability and insomnia in some people. These are signs of physical dependence, which occurs with addictive substances.

However, other research shows that melatonin may not lose effectiveness over time when taken for up to 3 years. More studies are needed on the long-term effects.

Disrupting your body’s natural melatonin production

When taken every day, melatonin supplements could theoretically disrupt your pineal gland’s ability to produce melatonin naturally. This can make falling asleep without it more difficult.

However, current evidence does not conclusively show that melatonin suppresses natural melatonin production. But experts recommend being cautious until more research is done, especially with high doses.

Psychological dependence

Some people may develop a psychological dependence on melatonin. This means they feel like they need it in order to fall asleep, even if they are not physically dependent.

People with insomnia are more prone to psychological dependence. If you rely on melatonin nightly for sleep, you may have more trouble falling asleep without it due to the “nocebo effect” – the opposite of the placebo effect caused by negative expectations.

Does melatonin improve sleep quality?

Several studies show that melatonin can help you fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer. However, its effects on sleep quality are less clear.

Some research found that melatonin increased time spent in deep, restorative stages of sleep. But other studies show little to no impact on sleep quality, including REM sleep.

So while melatonin may help you sleep longer, it may not improve the overall quality or restfulness of your sleep. More high-quality studies are needed.

How much melatonin should you take?

The optimal melatonin dosage can vary significantly between individuals. Most research uses dosages between 0.5 mg and 5 mg.

General dosage guidelines:

  • 0.5 mg – 1 mg for mild insomnia
  • 1 mg – 3 mg for moderate insomnia
  • 3 mg – 5 mg for more severe insomnia

Always start with the lowest effective dose. Bigger doses do not necessarily increase benefits. Melatonin works differently than most sleep medications – more does not mean better sleep.

Is melatonin safe for long-term use?

There are no official safety guidelines for long-term melatonin use. Due to the lack of research, most experts recommend limiting melatonin supplementation to a few weeks or months.

Potential long-term risks of high doses may include:

  • Hormonal changes
  • Effects on puberty and fertility
  • High blood sugar
  • Increased risk of seizures
  • Confusion or disorientation
  • Mood changes like depression or irritability
  • Headaches and dizziness

However, these side effects have not been confirmed in humans. More research is needed to understand the long-term safety, especially in children who may be more sensitive.

When should you take melatonin?

Most experts recommend taking melatonin 30 minutes to 1 hour before your target bedtime. This timing mimics your body’s natural melatonin production.

Melatonin works best when you are already prepared to fall asleep. Taking it too early may leave you feeling groggy in the morning.

Who should not take melatonin?

Certain people should avoid melatonin supplements without first consulting their doctor:

  • Pregnant or breastfeeding women
  • Children and teenagers
  • People with severe allergies and autoimmune disorders
  • People taking certain medications like blood thinners, diabetes medications, antidepressants and sedatives
  • People with epilepsy or seizures
  • People with liver problems

Melatonin could potentially worsen these existing health issues. Children are especially sensitive to melatonin’s effects on development and hormones.

Is melatonin safe for kids?

While melatonin supplements may help children with sleep disorders fall asleep faster, long-term use is not recommended.

Due to a lack of safety research, most pediatricians advise against giving melatonin to a child for more than a few months. Unknown effects on development and puberty are a major concern.

Non-drug therapies like sleep hygiene should be tried first for kids with insomnia. Melatonin is only recommended for short-term use if sleep issues persist.


Based on current evidence, melatonin does appear to have a low risk of dependence and addiction when used occasionally in the short-term as directed.

However, regular long-term use could potentially lead to tolerance, withdrawal symptoms, and disruption of your body’s natural melatonin production. More research is needed to confirm safety with chronic use.

To be cautious, melatonin is best limited to several weeks or months for insomnia. It should not replace proper sleep habits and hygiene. Consult your doctor before use if pregnant, giving it to a child, or taking medications that interact with melatonin.