Many older adults, especially women experiencing hormonal changes, have difficulty falling or staying asleep at night and fight fatigue all day. And some may try using melatonin as a natural, drug-free alternative to get a restful night’s sleep. But there are a number of side effects that may surprise you.
Melatonin is a hormone that plays a role in the natural sleep and wake cycle and is at its highest levels during the nighttime. Melatonin supplements are sometimes used to help treat insomnia or jet lag and are usually safe to use in the short term but with repeated use, can have side effects common to a hangover. It also becomes less effective over time and can leave users with a headache, dizziness, nausea or drowsiness the next day.
Many over-the-counter doses of melatonin are between 3 and 10 milligrams but usually a half a milligram or 1 milligram can do the trick of helping the body fall asleep. Talk with your doctor about what dosage and what reputable brand of supplement you might consider taking.
According to the Mayo Clinic, melatonin can also have more uncommon side effects that may include feelings of depression, mild tremor, mild anxiety, abdominal cramps, irritability, low blood pressure, confusion, disorientation or diminished alertness. Melatonin can cause daytime drowsiness and should not be taken within 5 hours of driving or using machinery.
As with any supplement or medication, it is important to talk with your doctor or pharmacist about any potential side effects or drug interaction before taking melatonin. Melatonin can interact with many medications including anticoagulants and anti-platelet drugs, anticonvulsants, diabetes medications and immunosuppressants.
To help get a restful night’s sleep try to keep a regular bedtime routine. A dark, cool, quiet bedroom will help create a peaceful environment. Turn off electronics one hour before bed, limit caffeine and alcohol, and consider doing something calming before bed like meditation, running a warm bath or doing some gentle stretches. Women who experience hot flashes may want to keep a glass of cold water at the bedside or a small fan that can be turned on conveniently.
For more information about getting a good night’s sleep, visit the National Institute on Aging by following this link.