Can You Overdose On Melatonin? Here’s What You Should Know

Susan Barrett |

By Hilary Sheinbaum; image from 

Proper melatonin dosages can vary greatly from person to person.

The health of your body and mind is heavily dependent on getting sufficient sleep. Trying (and failing) to fall sleep can be #theworst. So that’s why many turn to melatonin pills to help them catch some Zs. But can you ever take too much of it?

First, you need to understand what melatonin is: naturally produced in the body and some foods (like pineapples, bananas and oranges), it helps control your sleep cycle.

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Melatonin pills can help initiate sleep, but they don’t guarantee an uninterrupted slumber. More so, the drug can affect what happens during shut-eye. “Sometimes people get vivid dreams when they’re taking it, which I say to my patients, could be a good thing or a bad thing, depending on whether it’s a nightmare or not,” says family medicine physician Dr Vinh Nguyen.

Regardless, for many, popping a pill is the quick fix that helps them fall asleep faster.

One thing that suppresses the hormone? Light. “People are suppressing their own natural melatonin, because they’re exposing themselves to all this artificial light at night,” says internal medicine specialist Dr Gary Levinson. So it’s no wonder our tech-addicted selves are turning to pills to help us get some shut-eye.

How Much Melatonin Should You Take?

Because not one dosage fits all, the quantities taken for best results vary. “Melatonin is pretty excessively metabolised in the liver,” says Nguyen. “Therefore, the effective dose can vary greatly from person to person. An older person would need a much lower dose of melatonin, in general, than a younger person, because the liver metabolism changes as we age.”

The amount of melatonin a person usually requires to get back on track is very low: between 0.5 milligrams and 1 milligram a night, taken two hours before bed, says Levinson, who notes that melatonin pills can reach dosages as high as 15 milligrams.

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With any type of medication, there are possible side effects – especially when consuming large amounts. “Very high doses of melatonin can cause us to feel excessively sleepy in the daytime,” says Nguyen. “It can cause hypothermia, which is a lowering of the body temperature, and it can also cause some impairment of mental and physical performance in the short term – weighing people down and feeling a little slow the next day, in terms of exercise and energy level, and some mental slowing as well.”

But Can You Overdose On Melatonin?

Regardless of age, as sleepless as you are and as much melatonin as you take, you can’t overdose on the sleepy stuff. “It’s not going to stop your breathing, or anything like that,” says Levinson. But though melatonin alone can’t cause overdose symptoms, be careful what medicines you’re mixing together, especially with alcohol, and see your doctor before you start taking melatonin if you’re currently taking other meds.

“Melatonin mixed with alcohol can potentially cause over-sedation,” says Levinson. “This is the case with any sedative, such as Valium and Xanax. These are not absolute contradictions but people need to be aware.”

Nguyen also warns: “It is bad to mix melatonin with alcohol, or any other drugs and medications that cause drowsiness. Other examples would be opiate pain medications, prescription cough syrups and prescription sleep medications.”

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Levinson reiterates that normal amounts to use are .5 milligrams to 1 milligram per night, and some people will use up to 5 milligrams. To safely start taking melatonin, Nguyen suggests starting on low doses and building up if you feel that you need more. Expect to fall asleep more easily, however, keep in mind that staying asleep is not guaranteed. “It should be combined with good sleep hygiene,” says Levinson. “Avoiding light and computer, TV and smartphones in bed.”

When taken, patients can expect modest improvement with sleep, says Nguyen. “The positive aspects of melatonin [are that] it is relatively safe and non-addictive.”

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