Melatonin is a naturally occurring hormone in your body that helps promote sleep. Because of its calming and sedating effects, it’s also called the “sleep hormone.”

Your pineal gland releases melatonin into your brain at certain times of the day. It releases more at night, and slows production when it’s light outside.

In addition to its role in sleep, melatonin has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. It’s also involved with regulating blood pressure, immune function, and body temperature. As you age, your body makes less melatonin.

The supplement has been used to help with circadian rhythm sleep disorders for:

  • people who are blind
  • those with jet lag
  • shift workers
  • children with developmental disorders, like autism spectrum disorder.

Melatonin is an over-the-counter supplement in the United States, typically available near the vitamins and supplements.

Just because something is “natural” doesn’t make it automatically “safe.” While there are no reports of melatonin being addictive as of this writing, when taking medications or supplements, it’s always good to be aware of the potential effects of the substance.

Melatonin doesn’t cause withdrawal or symptoms of dependence, unlike other sleep medications. It also doesn’t cause a sleep “hangover,” and you don’t build up a tolerance to it. In other words, it doesn’t cause you to need more and more as time goes on, which is a hallmark of addiction. These characteristics make it unlikely that melatonin is addicting. More long-term research needs to be done on melatonin and the effects of long-term use, however.

If you or a family member have a history of addiction, talk with your doctor about your use of melatonin and any concerns you might have. It might not be right for everyone.

Although melatonin is naturally made by the body, it’s still important to use care with supplements. Too little melatonin won’t produce the desired sedating effect, and too much can cause unwanted effects, including interfering even more with your sleep cycle. The trick is to take the lowest effective dose, since taking a surplus of melatonin won’t help you sleep better.

In fact, some researchers believe it might not be so much the dosage, as the timing of administration, that affects its efficacy.

A typical starting dose of melatonin can range from 0.2 to 5 mg. This is a broad range, so it’s better to start off with a small dose, and slowly work up to the dose that’s effective for you. For general insomnia in adults, a standard dose can range from 0.3 to 10 mg. In older adults, the dose is between 0.1 and 5mg.

Many commercial preparations of melatonin contain the supplement in much higher doses. Based on the research, these higher doses just aren’t necessary. Melatonin is a hormone, and it’s best to take as low a dose as possible that is still effective.

Young children should avoid taking melatonin unless directed by their doctor. Women who are pregnant and those who are breastfeeding should not take melatonin until they ask their doctor about whether it’s safe to do so.

The exact dosage of melatonin you should take can vary, depending on your weight, age, and your response to mediation or supplements. Before taking any melatonin, talk with your doctor about other medications you might be taking, to ensure there are no possible adverse interactions. Certain medications might alter your response to melatonin, as well.

Melatonin is typically taken as a sleep aid, so naturally, one of the main side effects of the supplement is drowsiness or sleepiness. Taken appropriately, side effects are usually infrequent, but as with any medication or supplement, they can occur. They can also occur when too much melatonin is taken. Whether you take melatonin regularly or sporadically should not make a difference regarding any side effects.

Other side effects can include:

  • nausea
  • headache
  • dizziness
  • mild tremor
  • irritability
  • low blood pressure
  • stomach cramps
  • temporary feelings of depression

If you take melatonin and observe any side effects, talk with your doctor. They might recommend a different dosage, or an alternative. Tell them about any other medications or supplements you might be taking, including vitamins, to rule out an adverse interaction.

While melatonin is considered safe to use short-term, there haven’t been enough long-term studies to know what the side effects are if used over a long period of time. While the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates dietary supplements, regulations are different than that of prescription drugs or over-the-counter drugs, and are often less strict. If you plan on taking melatonin long-term, this may be something to consider.

At the present time, there’s no literature to suggest that melatonin is addictive. More research needs to be done on the use of melatonin and its side effects, particularly studies of long-term melatonin use. If you have concerns about using melatonin or possible addiction to the supplement, talk with your doctor.