When people think of substance abuse or overdosing, the most common thing they associate it with is illegal or prescription drugs. But it is also possible to overdose on something over the counter and even “natural.” Too much of anything, even a good thing, is not beneficial.
Humans sometimes forget that it’s possible to overdose on the “good stuff.” Things like sleep, vitamin C, and water — which seem like inherently healthy, can be extremely harmful to the body when taken to excess. For instance, too much sleep increases the risk of heart disease and diabetes. An excess of vitamin C can lead to digestive problems, iron overload, and kidney stones. Too much water in too short a time can cause the sodium levels in your blood to drop. This is known as hyponatremia or water intoxication. It’s a dangerous medical condition that requires emergency treatment.
There is always a risk of unintentionally misuse or abuse. It doesn’t hurt to be vigilant with the items we ingest, melatonin supplements included. While melatonin is generally considered safe, it’s not advisable to take it with caffeine, alcohol, or some medications. Alcohol and caffeine can negate the efficacy of supplement melatonin, while some medication mixed with melatonin may cause some serious harm.
What is melatonin?
Melatonin is a natural hormone produced naturally by the body, specifically the brain. It is secreted by the pineal gland. Melatonin diffuses via the brain into the cerebrospinal fluid and then into the bloodstream to aid in sleeping. The hormone functions by controlling the daily sleep-wake cycle or the circadian rhythm. However, your body’s internal clock also has a direct effect on the amount of melatonin your pineal gland produces. The amount of melatonin you produce is also subject to environmental factors like the amount of sunlight or natural light that you are exposed to each day. Melatonin also has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects.
If your body systems are working as they should, you can expect melatonin level to increase in the evening, as soon as the sun goes down. Levels remain higher while it is dark. Early in the morning, as the sun rises, the melatonin level will start to drop, helping you to wake up from your sleep. Some medications, like birth control pills, can have increased melatonin levels as a side effect.
Melatonin supplements are available in many drugstores. They come in various forms, such as melatonin pills, liquids, chewable melatonin tablets, and even melatonin spray. Melatonin occurs in both synthetic and natural forms. While these are over-the-counter supplements in the U.S., in Europe, it is classified as a prescription drug.
In the body, melatonin has many other functions aside from regulating sleep patterns. Research has shown that melatonin has been found to have mixed results when treating autoimmune disorders. Crohn’s Disease, an autoimmune disorder, was found to benefit from melatonin due to the hormone’s anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory efforts. However, sometimes, the melatonin stimulates the immune system causing a worsening of symptoms such as in the case of rheumatoid arthritis. 
How do melatonin supplements work?
Much like the naturally produced melatonin hormone in the body, melatonin supplements’ main function is to regulate the body’s circadian rhythm (internal clock) and help put it back on track when it has been disrupted. Usually, people turn to melatonin supplements when they are suffering from insomnia or when they wake up during the night and have trouble falling back asleep. This is not to be taken lightly because chronic sleep problems can exacerbate anxiety and depression.
Melatonin supplements may also be given for various sleep disorders including the sleep phase syndrome (delayed sleep schedule syndrome.) This condition is different from insomnia because the sleep delay is usually only around two hours beyond the desired time of sleep. But it can still affect your sleep quality and give you morning grogginess or make it difficult to get up in the morning and function with complete faculties the next day.
Those who work night shifts or those with jobs that are disruptive to regular sleep patterns and suffering from sleep work disorder could also benefit from melatonin. Melatonin supplements help frequent travelers or those suffering from jet lag fall asleep.
Some swear by melatonin benefits to help with sleeping. But truthfully, there is not enough research to conclusively say that a melatonin supplement will work for everyone. After all, people can differently to medications and supplements. Melatonin supplements may work perfectly for one person and not all for another. For treatment of more severe sleep disorders, your doctor might opt to prescribe a stronger sleep medication instead.
Can you overdose on melatonin?
Can you overdose on melatonin? The short answer is yes. If you want to try taking melatonin but you are worried about the possible side effects, you are correct to take precautions. Melatonin potency varies from person to person, so it’s very easy to misuse or overdose accidentally. Individuals should not assume that therapeutic doses are the same across the board. Also, people using it might resort to trial and error to find out the correct dosage that works for them. It is advisable to always start with the lowest dosage possible and slightly increase the dosage as needed to avoid accidental overdose.
The side effects of taking too much melatonin supplements are not fatal, but they can be irritating and damaging. Be observant and watch out for any adverse effects. For instance, for some taking too much melatonin will leave them feeling extremely awake, instead of sleepy. Others have said that sleepiness came at unintended hours and could even cause some pretty intense dreams. Other common side effects of taking too much melatonin supplements or melatonin overdose are dizziness, crankiness, anxiety, body aches, and even diarrhea and an upset stomach. Since the effectiveness of melatonin supplements are different from each person, the symptoms of overdose are also different.
In children, melatonin can worsen seizures in children with brain disabilities. Studies offer conflicting data regarding their effect on epileptic seizures.
Melatonin side effects can be serious. For instance, melatonin supplements may also interact with medication you are currently taking, such as high blood pressure medicine. Melatonin can affect the blood pressure and may cause unexpected spikes and changes in the blood pressure. Melatonin has been known to increase the effect of blood thinners making blood clotting more difficult subsequently increasing the risk of hemorrhaging or excessive bleeding.
One other thing to consider is the additives included in each dosage. Melatonin supplements per se may have very little or very mild side effects. However, their additives or how those additives will interact with any medication you might already be taking or underlying medical conditions you may have. There is no exact science for this since each melatonin supplement brand uses different formulations. There is less regulation for this since it is more often than not an over-the-counter supplement.
Sleeping is an essential part of living a healthy and balanced life, and for functioning to the best of your capacity. Sleeping problems should therefore never be ignored or dismissed. You may try some lifestyle adjustments to improve your quality of sleep, but you must draw the line at self-medicating, even with something as seemingly harmless as melatonin supplements. It helps to be diagnosed by a medical professional who might prescribe a different medication altogether. Chronic sleep deprivation could have dire effects, and you might need something stronger than melatonin to help sort you out.
Nevertheless, compared to every other sleep medication, it is extremely unlikely to develop a dependency or an addiction to melatonin supplements. You also are less likely to be habituated or develop a diminished response from repeatedly taking it. There is also no hangover effect from taking melatonin supplements. Many people who suffer from insomnia or experience occasional trouble falling asleep swear by the benefits of taking melatonin for getting a good night’s sleep. In fact, there is even melatonin for dogs! For dogs, melatonin products can help with many mood problems or anxiety your dog might be experiencing.
In the end, it can never hurt to be extra cautious, even with over the counter drugs and those classified as supplements. Because of the possible side effects and its possible interaction with other drugs, anyone who is even thinking of taking melatonin supplements should first consult a doctor.