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How Safe Are My Melatonin Supplements?

Writer: Amos Darius '25

Editor: Wonjin Ko '25

You're tossing and turning under the covers desperately trying to fall asleep. Perhaps it’s jetlag, or maybe it’s the approaching exam that’s keeping you up. At last, you decide to take some melatonin gummies and soon you’ve drifted away. It’s a scene all too common for people across the country. The use of melatonin supplements seems to have grown in popularity and according to the Sleep Foundation 27% of adults use melatonin as a sleep aid and 46% of parents give it to their children, which is almost half! [1]. As the supplements become more common, it begs the question of how safe they really are.

Melatonin is a naturally occurring hormone that is produced in the pineal gland in one's brain. Darkness acts as a stimulus and melatonin is produced as a response, thus letting the body know it’s time for bed. Therefore, the hormone plays an important role in one's circadian rhythm, or the natural 24 hour sleep-wake cycle [2]. The melatonin found in gummies can be made synthetically, designed to imitate human melatonin, or from animals. However, many people have raised concerns about the ingredients in these supplements.

The results of a  2023 study published by JAMA implies that there are many liberties taken in the marketing of melatonin products. 30 melatonin gummy brands were used in the study and were examined in order to ascertain  how much melatonin, CBD, and serotonin were found in each product. CBD is a chemical derived from cannabis plants and serotonin is a naturally occuring chemical associated with many neurological functions. The serotonin isn’t supposed to be the gummies and is considered a contaminant [3].

The results found that the actual amount of melatonin in the products ranged from 74% to 347% of what was advertised on the label [3].  In addition, the CBD range for 4 products was 104%  to 118% of what was labeled [3]. In fact, one product labeled melatonin had no melatonin at all and only had CBD [3]. Most of the melatonin gummies had incorrect amounts of melatonin compared to what was advertised on the labels (88%) [3]. This raises concerns as melatonin isn’t regulated by the FDA as it’s considered a dietary supplement. The use of CBD is also concerning as it also hasn’t been proven safe for children, with the only FDA approved product being Epidiolex which is a prescription drug used to treat seizures [4]. 

There are also concerns about accidental poisoning as the number of emergency room visits due to melatonin continues to rise. According to the CDC there was a 530% increase in calls to poison control centers regarding the supplement from 2021 to 2022 [5]. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the gummies aren’t safe, but that careful consideration must go into the choice of taking a melatonin supplement along with contact from a doctor or pharmacist, as organizations such as Mayo Clinic cosign its short term use. 

But if you're still on the fence about melatonin use there are ways to naturally boost melatonin production in the body through foods such as eggs, milk and fish [6]. It’s also important to limit screen time before bed,  keep the bedroom as dark as possible, and follow a regular sleep schedule to limit disruptions to the circadian rhythm.

So when that tossing and turning does happen again, will you still reach for the melatonin supplements? 







References

  1. Clark, B., & Clark, B. (2023, September 19). Nearly Half of Parents Give Their Kids Melatonin for Sleep. Sleep Foundation. https://www.sleepfoundation.org/sleep-news/nearly-half-of-parents-give-kids-melatonin-for-sleep#:~:text=A%20new%20study%20shows%20that,View%20Source%20.

  2. Melatonin: What You Need To Know. (n.d.). NCCIH. https://www.nccih.nih.gov/health/melatonin-what-you-need-to-know

  3. Cohen, P. A., Avula, B., Wang, Y., Katragunta, K., & Khan, I. (2023, April 25). Quantity of Melatonin and CBD in Melatonin Gummies Sold in the US. JAMA (Chicago, Ill.). https://doi.org/10.1001/jama.2023.2296

  4. Is it Safe to Give a Child CBD for ADHD? (2021, March 5). WebMD. https://www.webmd.com/add-adhd/childhood-adhd/is-it-safe-to-give-a-child-cbd-for-adhd#:~:text=of%20the%20children.-,Is%20CBD%20Safe%20for%20Children%3F,in%20patients%20older%20than%201.

  5. Lelak, K., Vohra, V., Neuman, M. I., Toce, M. S., & Sethuraman, U. (2022, June 3). Pediatric Melatonin Ingestions — United States, 2012–2021. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (Print). https://doi.org/10.15585/mmwr.mm7122a1

  6. Foods High in Melatonin. (2020, October 30). WebMD. https://www.webmd.com/diet/foods-high-in-melatonin


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