Health: The Overuse of Melatonin

The Story:

A recent paper in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), Dr. Jingen Li as lead author, suggests that adults in the United States are over-using melatonin preparations in search of a better night’s rest.


Melatonin is a hormone primarily released by the pineal gland, which is integral to the sleep-wake cycle. It was discovered in 1958 and has become a common over-the-counter dietary supplement.

The new paper is a look at data from ten cycles of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) covering the years 1999 to 2018. the data involved 55,021 adults, with a 52/48 split of women to men, and a mean age of 47.5 years.

The paper reveals a marked increase in melatonin use beginning around 2009. This has accompanied shifts in life-cycle: people work more variable shifts than they used to, for example, which leads to more self-medication of one’s sleep.

In Pill Form:
A number of unpleasant side effects accompany regular use of melatonin to self-medicate: dizzyness, headaches, disorientation, depression, and so forth.
A less obvious problem: doctors are concerned that when patients self-medicate for their sleep troubles they avoid an opportunity to address its underlying cause. Obstructive sleep apnea, for example, may cause insomnia-like symptoms. If left untreated, the apnea may develop into a serious long-term health problem.


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