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MDs Caution: Melatonin Gummies Can Have Dangerous Side Effects

88% of melatonin gummies are inaccurately labeled — here's what you need to know to stay safe

These days, many health conscious people are taking melatonin supplements as an alternative to prescription sleeping pills to get a good night’s sleep. But not everyone likes swallowing pills. Enter melatonin gummies. The chewable dietary supplement makes it easy — and delicious — to shore up melatonin levels. But do melatonin gummies work? And are there downsides? Keep reading for the details on melatonin gummies, including must-know info on a recent study showing many products contain more melatonin than labels indicate.

How melatonin brings on deep sleep

The body naturally releases melatonin in response to fading daylight, making you feel sleepy as it gets dark outside. For that reason, it’s sometimes called the ‘vampire hormone.’ Fluctuations in melatonin levels help regulate the body’s circadian rhythms, or sleep-wake cycle, but as we age, natural melatonin production slows, increasing the risk for sleep trouble. Research shows that 57% of middle-aged women suffer from sleep issues like insomnia — a number that rises with age. And many of them turn to melatonin supplements, including those in gummy form, to help them sleep better. But melatonin can do more than bring on sleep.

Additional benefits of melatonin

“Melatonin regulates the immune system and blood pressure, acts as a key antioxidant and helps your body know when it’s time to sleep and wake up,” says registered dietitian Jerlyn Jones, owner of The Lifestyle Dietitian. Melatonin has also been shown to reduce migraine pain and frequency, improve the symptoms of Alzheimer’s and ease the pain of heartburn — without the side effects of heartburn drugs. (Click through to see how melatonin can even reverse thinning hair!)

What are melatonin gummies?

Melatonin supplements come in numerous forms, from tablets and pills to liquids, powders, sprays, patches and gummies. To make the gummies, manufacturers add synthetic melatonin to a gelatin, starch and sugar combination to make a chewy, candy-like vitamin product. Compared to traditional pills or capsules, you don’t need to take gummies with water and may be easier for some people to take.  

In recent years, melatonin gummies have become increasingly popular — they’re now available in supermarkets, drugstores and online retailers. And experts predict that the number of gummy supplements on the market, including melatonin, is expected to grow by 97% from 2023 to 2028.

The problem with melatonin gummies  

Research published in the journal JAMA in April 2023 found that 22 out of 25 melatonin gummies (or 88%) were inaccurately labeled, with some containing up to 3.5 times as much melatonin as they claim. That’s a problem, says sleep medicine expert Shelby Harris, PsyD, who warns, “Taking too much melatonin can cause nightmares, headaches and grogginess.” That same study found that some sleep gummies also contained CBD, despite its absence from ingredient lists on labels. (Click through to see if CBD could help you sleep better.) Fortunately, it’s easy to find out what’s in your gummies — keep scrolling for more info on that.

Overall, melatonin is safe for short-term use, but research for long-term use is lacking, according to Jones. In the United States, melatonin gummies, and all dietary supplements, are only loosely regulated. Unlike medication, they are not strictly evaluated for safety or for efficacy by the Food and Drug Administration.

Board-certified neurologist and sleep physician Brandon Peters, MD, author of Sleep Through Insomnia, says, “Melatonin can have modest effects on sleep, and melatonin gummies are relatively benign to try, but long-term use is discouraged. CBT-I (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia) remains the best treatment option for persistent insomnia.”

Who benefits from melatonin? 

Melatonin has been shown to help improve occasional insomnia. But sleep expert Michael Breus, PhD, only recommends melatonin for seniors, since levels begin to drop at age 55 to 60; for those with jet lag to readjust an out-of-whack body clock after travel; for shift workers, who need to sleep during the day; and for those with ADD, a melatonin deficiency or delayed sleep-wake phase disorder, a condition in which your sleep pattern is off by at least two hours, making it difficult to wake up on time and interfering with work and social activities.

Dr. Breus notes that melatonin supplements, including gummies, can interact with medications, including antidepressants, birth control, blood pressure meds and medications for diabetes. “They also interact with many different supplements,” he adds. People who have an autoimmune disease, a seizure disorder, depression or who  are pregnant or breastfeeding, should not take melatonin supplements, according to John Hopkins Medicine

Gummies aren’t great for your teeth, either. If you have had significant dental work done, ask your dentist about the sweet and chewy version of the supplement.

Other ways to get your daily dose of melatonin

You can get melatonin from foods, says Jones. Top dietary sources of melatonin include eggs; fish; nuts (almonds and pistachios have the highest amounts of melatonin); legumes like lentils, kidney beans, green beans; and tart cherries. Research suggests tart cherry juice may help increase total sleep time; a small study found that people with chronic insomnia who drank tart cherry juice reported improved quality of sleep. You can even make a delicious ‘nice cream’ recipe using tart cherries!

How to choose the right melatonin supplement for you  

Many people take too much melatonin, says Dr. Breus. The downside of that? High doses can worsen sleep problems! “Melatonin rises in the body at night to facilitate sleep, then falls to let you awaken in the morning,” notes Rubin Naiman, PhD, a clinical assistant professor at the University of Arizona Andrew Weill Center for Integrative Medicine. “But high doses can cause levels to spike too fast, then drop too early, which triggers nighttime awakenings.” His advice: Take a timed-release product with 300 mcg to 1 mg of melatonin (like Life Extension Melatonin 6 Hour Timed Release 300 mcg; buy on Amazon, $9 for 100 capsules) 30 minutes before bed. “This sustains the levels that enhance the natural sleep process, rather than disrupting it.” (Click through for more surprising sleep sappers.)

Ask your doctor about reliable brands and a good dosage for you. The general recommendation for selecting dietary supplements is to seek out products certified by a third party. ConsumerLabNSF and United States Pharmacopeia (USP) have quality certification programs. If the gummy you’re considering has one of these logos on it, it means it’s been tested and certified.

Depending on factors like formulation and ingredients, additives including added colors, preservatives, colorants and delivery method, there are options that might work better for some women, says Rosia Parrish, a registered naturopathic doctor based in Boulder.

Sublingual or liquid forms of melatonin allow for faster absorption through the mucous membranes under the tongue, she says. “My personal preference is the liposomal liquid form,” she says, explaining that liposomal supplements have the active ingredient encapsulated within tiny lipid or fat cell pockets. This can “enhance the bioavailability and absorption of melatonin in the body, which means that you can effectively use less than most other forms.”

Opting for a liquid form of melatonin offers another advantage: precise dosing. “With a liquid, you have the flexibility to begin with just a single drop or even smaller fractions, which can be beneficial for individuals who are sensitive to the effects of melatonin,” Parrish adds.

If you prefer a capsule, Dr. Breus recommends a low-dose of 0.3 to 1 mg of Herbatonin, a plant-based melatonin (buy at Amazon, $17.99 for a 90-day supply).

Finally, if melatonin doesn’t seem to work for you, consider seeing your healthcare provider, who can offer additional remedies and testing to determine the factors contributing to your sleep problems.

Looking for more natural sleep remedies? Keep reading!

A Growing Number of Experts Advocate Using Mouth Tape to Improve Sleep — One Woman’s Surprising Experience

Sleep No More? These Natural Insomnia Remedies Deliver the Zz’s You Need

From Sleep Divorces to Spray Bottles — Surprising Sleep Remedies for Meno-somnia

This content is not a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis. Always consult your physician before pursuing any treatment plan.

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