If you struggle to fall asleep or stay asleep, you know how exhausting it can be to toss and turn, trying in vain to quiet your racing mind and restless body. The next morning’s fatigue and irritability only compound your troubles, which is why many people who routinely experience insomnia may be willing to try almost anything to break the cycle.
Melatonin sleep aids such as capsules and gummies are available without a prescription and marketed as all-natural, making them seem like an attractive option when sleep eludes you. But how does melatonin work, and can you get hooked on it?
What Is Melatonin?
Your brain begins releasing melatonin when it gets dark outside. This hormone helps regulate the 24-hour internal clock that tells you when it’s time to start relaxing and winding down for the day.
While prescription sleep aids gradually slow down brain activity, melatonin works differently. Essentially, it makes you drowsy by tricking your brain into believing it’s bedtime. Melatonin can change your circadian rhythm, helping you fall asleep earlier or later than you naturally would. That’s why it can be beneficial for people adjusting to a new schedule or different time zone.
Is Melatonin Addictive?
Since melatonin is a hormone your body produces on its own, it has fewer risky side effects than prescription sleep medications like Ambien. It won’t leave you feeling groggy, disoriented or hungover the next day, and you’re unlikely to become physically dependent on it.
However, melatonin can still become habit-forming if you take it to fall asleep every night. For instance, on nights when you don’t take your supplement, you may become anxious when it takes you longer than usual to doze off. Eventually, those worries may perpetuate a belief that you need it for a full, restful night’s sleep.
How Much Melatonin Should You Take?
While melatonin requires a prescription in some other countries, it’s available over the counter in the U.S. The FDA classifies it as a dietary supplement, which means there are no specific regulations governing its dosage and use. Without guidance, you’re essentially relying on guesswork to determine when and how much to take. There is also a lack of conclusive scientific evidence on whether melatonin is safe for long-term use.
You should not take melatonin as a substitute for healthy sleep habits. For instance, if you consume too much caffeine or alcohol, have an irregular sleep schedule or lead a mostly sedentary lifestyle, you may cancel out the sleepiness supplements cause. As a result, you could start relying on increasingly higher doses of melatonin instead of addressing the bad behaviors that cause you to struggle with insomnia.
How to Overcome a Substance Dependency
The best way to avoid becoming dependent on melatonin or experiencing any potential side effects of long-term supplement use is to encourage your brain to make more melatonin on its own. Some simple lifestyle changes will allow you to get healthy, restful sleep and greet each day with more energy. Start by getting more natural light in the morning and throughout the day. One way to accomplish this is by eating breakfast outside or going for a midday walk. You can also create a relaxing bedtime routine that includes gentle stretching, meditation and dimming the lights.
If you are worried about your overreliance on sleep aids like melatonin or other substances, Vista Taos can help. We provide accredited, holistic alcohol and drug addiction treatment. Contact us today to learn more.