Updated: Sep 9
With so many people suffering from sleep issues, melatonin is becoming a popular supplement. Melatonin is a highly lipid-soluble hormone. Melatonin supplements are typically synthetically made, despite the availability of whole food sources.
Melatonin is a highly lipid-soluble hormone, allowing it to cross cellular membranes and the blood-brain barrier. It is made in the pineal gland from tryptophan. The amount of melatonin naturally increases during the 11 pm - 3 am time frame. When sunlight is present, another hormone, serotonin, is stored. When serotonin is stored, the enzyme that converts serotonin to melatonin cannot reach it. However, once natural light is unavailable, another hormone - epinephrine - is released, causing serotonin to become available and increasing melatonin production (1). Additionally, melatonin is available in synthetic forms such as supplementation to help raise the body’s natural levels and encourage sleep.
Dangers of Melatonin Supplementation
Chronic supplementation can desensitize two of its three receptors, requiring higher doses over time to have the same effect. Most studies show a decrease in effectiveness when supplementing long term. Melatonin is necessary for sleep health.
Melatonin dramatically affects one’s sleep and circadian rhythm. Both of these functions have an effect not just on our sleeping habits but on many other hormones and processes that we often don’t think about. The adrenal glands and, for example, one of the hormones produced there, cortisol, rely on the circadian rhythm. Cortisol has many functions, such as controlling inflammation, gathering nutrients, and how we respond to stress or injuries. Adrenal glands produce many of our hormones with a significant effect on energy levels. This can leave you exhausted, stressed, sore, and without energy.
One of the most significant risks with synthetic melatonin and cortisol is being on the wrong rhythm. Melatonin should be highest in the late evening and drop by morning, while cortisol is low in the evening and rises in the morning. If that’s off, you may struggle to fall asleep at night or wake up tired/groggy in the morning. You may also experience that “midafternoon slump” that drives many to get another cup of coffee or a sugary snack!
The presence of melatonin outside of the body’s natural circadian rhythm (that 11 pm to 3 am time frame) can affect the:
Central nervous system
Adrenal glands and other hormones
and even more, that is only barely beginning to be studied (4)!
Another concern about using melatonin for children is its effects on the body influence more than sleep. It also plays a role in the way a person's body matures sexually. Melatonin levels have an impact on how the ovaries and testes function. Further study is needed to determine if taking melatonin during childhood or the teen years can affect a person's sexual development (5).
Excessive morning sleepiness
Change in behavior
The directions on a mainstream melatonin bottle state, "for adults, take one tablet daily at bedtime as Melatonin may produce drowsiness," which is weird since melatonin is considered generally safe for short-term use and is not recommended for long-term use. According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, short-term use of melatonin may not be harmful, but there is insufficient evidence of its long-term safety. In some cases, relying on melatonin could mask another problem (8).
One major issue with melatonin is that it directly alters the body’s hormones. Hormones are chemical messengers that the body should be producing on its own, and if it’s not, there’s a reason why – and simply supplementing melatonin doesn’t address this. A 1-5mg dose will cause the body’s levels to reach 10-100 times “normal” melatonin levels within one hour (9).
One study looked at a group of older women with long-term sleep issues and started them on vitamin D supplements and low doses of melatonin – just 0.5 mg per day (10). This was effective for them. Most of the melatonin supplements on the market are 5-10mg, and even kids’ supplements are 1- 3 mg. This is a lot more than most people need.
When you go to the supermarket, you will find doses 10x the recommended amount. According to the Cleveland Clinic, the recommended doses of melatonin are from 0.5 mg up to 3 mg, which are adequate to promote sleep or treat jet lag.
40-44 years old: 0.5-1mg
45-54 years old: 1-2mg
55-64 years old: 2mg
65-75 years old: 2.5-5mg
75+ years old: 3.5-5mg (11)
You may think the higher the dose, the more effective it must be. That's very wrong, and here's a fact: you can easily overdose on melatonin.
Low body temperature
It’s mind-blowing that many of these side effects just so happen to match the symptoms of an overdose. All that aside, you should not use melatonin if you have medical conditions such as (14):
Epilepsy or other seizure disorder
An autoimmune condition
High or low blood pressure
A bleeding or blood clotting disorder such as hemophilia
If you’re taking a blood thinner like warfarin
Using other sedatives or tranquilizers
If you are using any medicine to prevent organ transplant rejection
Everything has a time and place, melatonin included. Melatonin may be natural, but the pills in the stores are synthetic and brimming with toxic fillers. When it comes to melatonin, it's about getting just enough. Ensure supplementation is short-term and at the appropriate dosage.
That's not even including the inactive ingredients. For instance, Natrol's 10mg Melatonin ingredients include:
Melatonin, Dextrose, Microcrystalline, Cellulose, Cellulose Gum, Crospovidone, Maltodextrin, Glyceryl Behenate, Sucrose Esters of Fatty Acids, Gum Acacia, Beet Root Powder, Silicon Dioxide, Sucralose, and Artificial Flavor System (Strawberry).
Remember, melatonin may be helpful in the short term for people with long-term sleep difficulties, along with other changes to try to fix the underlying problems. It may also benefit those unable to produce enough melatonin (seek care from a health care professional if you fall into this category). Melatonin isn’t the best approach for mild sleep troubles and shouldn’t be the first option (or even the second or third).
Natural Sources of Melatonin
There are many ways to increase your natural melatonin production, but that may not be the issue. What if the real problem is you’re suppressing your natural melatonin production without realizing it? For instance, one study found that 2 hours of exposure to blue light at night suppressed melatonin production (15). Or maybe you’re not getting enough sunlight during the day, resulting in insufficient production of serotonin. Serotonin plays a role in the production of melatonin (16). With that said, getting sunlight may help produce melatonin at night.
What About Doris Loh's Research?
When deciding if melatonin is a singular solution, many people reference Doris Loh. Doris is an independent researcher/author focused on discovering health solutions that have withstood billions of years of evolutionary challenges. Many consider her unique connections to be groundbreaking. Her independent research has resulted in numerous publications discussing melatonin supplementation, especially for those infected with covid.
From what I can see, Doris Loh had no previous research before her hyper-focus on melatonin, which started in 2021. Doris was a concert pianist with no self-study background in health. Doris is not a health practitioner and has no history in health. In fact, her protocols specifically say they should NOT be taken as medical advice. Doris claims to be doing "peer-reviewed" research, but none of her “research” is backed by science (19). She has no sources, and after endless searching through research databases, I could not find studies to support her claims–actually, quite the contrary.
Some of Doris’ recommendations are over 22x the recommended amount of melatonin. Doris suggests upwards of 110mg of melatonin per day for adults and 40mg for children 8 to 16 years old.
One study used a 10mg dosage to handle circadian rhythm disorders in people who were blind. The authors concluded that a physician should always supervise this high dosage (20).
Some studies have used a 20mg dosage combined with cancer treatments like radiation and chemotherapy (21). This scenario falls under a particular instance category and should only be prescribed by and taken under the supervision of a doctor.
Other studies have used between 20 and 40mg to prevent and treat clot-forming cells (thrombocytopenia) associated with cancer chemotherapy (22). A dose above 30mg is substantial.
Keep in mind, according to Sleep Advisor, a dosage of 100mg is a severe dosage, and it shouldn’t be used at all. With that in mind, it’s noteworthy that such a large dosage would likely result in many unwanted, potentially harmful effects (23).
I want to be clear, although Doris Loh is infamously known for her melatonin and ascorbic acid protocol, science only partially backs this up, and her specific protocol has never been studied.
Contrarily, a regimen including vitamin D, zinc, and melatonin supplementation was studied and may prevent and treat RNA virus infections, such as COVID-19 and influenza (24). Keep in mind that this study does not specify the dosage used. Another study had similar findings but noted that additional experiments and clinical studies are required to confirm this speculation (25). The systematic review which mentioned dosages was 12 to 36 times less than Doris Loh’s recommendations. They administered 3, 6, and 9mg of melatonin daily in three different trials. Treatment duration was 14 days in two randomized controlled trials and seven days in the other (26). That’s compared to upward of 6 months recommended by Doris Loh.
Taking this information and making your own decision based on facts is essential. Can melatonin be beneficial under certain circumstances? Absolutely! But it is not a universal answer to health. Without proper research and safety studies, melatonin shouldn’t be treated as a cure-all. In conclusion, ask yourself:
Where is Doris’ research? Why does she have no sources?
Where did Doris get these dosage recommendations?
Has anyone followed her protocol? If so, what happened to them? Did they have side effects or concerns?
If you're looking for a covid protocol, this is my protocol, backed by science, which I used successfully in 2022.
Natural Sleep Aid Recommendations
If you're struggling to get quality sleep, I'd recommend starting by reading Earthley's guide, The Secret to a God Night's Sleep, which I co-wrote and designed.
Additionally, there are several natural sleep aids that I recommend and use, including:
Earthley's Anxiety Calm Oil (Formula P) is a CBD oil formulated with 600 mg of pure-spectrum CBD in a hemp seed oil base for the full medicinal benefits of cannabis without the high.
Earthley's Good Night Lotion combines nourishing butters with magnesium chloride to promote restful sleep. It even helps to relieve leg and muscle cramps, growing pains, headaches, occasional constipation, and more. Unlike sprays, our lotion isn’t itchy and won’t cause stomach upset like pills.
Earthley's Sleepy Time combines three powerful yet gentle herbs that promote restful sleep and peaceful nights. This herbal tincture is the perfect natural solution for the whole family.
MaryRuth's Valerian Root helps to support the function of GABA by promoting its production, inhibiting its metabolism, and promoting its binding to specific receptors. Overall, these interactions may promote a calmer nervous system and better sleep.