Are Melatonin Gummies Safe? Here’s What (Kinda Scary) New Research Says
As blissful as the idea of drifting off to sleep is, sometimes it can be really hard, especially for someone who deals with chronic insomnia, restless leg syndrome, or any number of other sleep-disrupting conditions. For many people, the go-to fix has been to pop a melatonin pill or chew on a melatonin gummy. A 2022 survey by the National Sleep Foundation found that 27.4 percent of adults take melatonin as a sleep aid and that more than five times as many US adults used melatonin in 2018 as in 2000.
However, if you’re part of that 27 percent, you may want to take note of the most recent research on the popular supplement: a new research letter published in JAMA Network found that you can’t exactly trust what’s on the label of a melatonin supplement.
Specifically, 22 out of the 25 melatonin gummies examined contained different amounts of melatonin than what was listed on their labels, reports The New York Times. One gummy contained 74 percent of the amount of melatonin on the package label, another had 347 percent of the labeled amount, and finally, one product contained no melatonin at all, but did contain cannabidiol, or CBD. (It’s “currently illegal to market CBD by adding it to a food or labeling it as a dietary supplement,” per the Food and Drug Administration, but there are plenty of products on the market that currently do so.)
This isn’t the first bit of research to suggest melatonin supplements can be wildly mislabeled. In a 2017 study published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, researchers found that, of the 31 supplements they analyzed, the actual melatonin content ranged from -83 percent to +478 percent of the label amount. It also noted that a particular product varied by as much as 465 percent from bottle to bottle – meaning you could buy the same exact supplement and get a different dose. Even more worryingly, this study found that eight of the supplements tested contained serotonin – a naturally produced hormone, yes, but also a controlled substance used in the treatment of several neurological disorders.
This doesn’t bode well for those who take – and trust – that melatonin gummies are a safe way to help get to sleep. But it’s also a glaring reminder that supplements, overall, are kind of sketch. ICYDK, supplements are largely unregulated, meaning you can never be sure exactly what you’re getting (but more on that below).
Here’s what you need to know about the safety of melatonin gummies and any other supplements you might be taking – or see come across your TikTok feed.
So, Are Melatonin Gummies Safe?
“In general, and for adults, I think the answer is yes, most of the time,” says family physician Mark T. Loafman, MD. Melatonin is a naturally occurring hormone in the body and is therefore considered safe. Experts also don’t believe that melatonin can be addictive or habit-forming.
As a supplement, “there’s fairly good evidence that a ‘small’ supplement dose of oral melatonin shortens the time it takes to fall asleep by anywhere between 10 and 50 minutes,” Dr. Loafman says. Specifically, it may be helpful if the time it takes to fall asleep after lights out is uncomfortably long and when other attempts to sleep are not working.
That said, the dosage recommendation for adults is small. Specifically, Cleveland Clinic recommends starting at one milligram and increasing that dose by one milligram (never exceeding 10 milligrams) if needed. But if your melatonin pill doesn’t contain the dose it says it does (as the new research suggests may be the case), are you in danger of unintentionally taking too much? And what might happen if you do?
Can You Overdose on Melatonin Gummies?
One of the biggest concerns presented by this new research (and the older research, for that matter) is the idea of getting too much melatonin. After all, if one of the tested gummies had 347 percent of the labeled amount, that’s got to be one heck of a dose. But can you overdose on melatonin? And what side effects are there if you take too much?
TBH, we don’t have all the answers. “Taking too much, or overdosing on melatonin, is also an area in need of formal research,” Dr. Loafman says. But there’s good news: “The limited studies available have not shown significant adverse effects, which is some reassurance,” he says.
That said, there are a couple potential risks, in theory, he says. Higher doses of melatonin are thought to suppress the hormone secretion and regulation in your hypothalamus, pituitary gland, and gonadal glands, for example. So, “higher doses of melatonin over time may increase immune system reactivity,” Dr. Loafman says, which could exacerbate immune-mediated conditions (those caused by abnormal activity of the immune system, such as multiple sclerosis or psoriasis. “Again, these are theoretical but are also based on good science,” he notes.
In the short-term, taking a megadose of melatonin can cause nightmares or headaches, neurologist Alcibiades Rodriguez, MD, told POPSUGAR in September 2020. You could also experience nausea, dizziness, or daytime drowsiness, which Mayo Clinic describes as a “hangover effect.” In one example cited by Poison Control, a 66-year-old man took too much melatonin and it resulted in lethargy and disorientation. He woke up feeling “drugged” and couldn’t recall the events of the night before.
If you think you’ve taken too much melatonin, seek guidance from Poison Control via its online tool or by calling 1-800-222-1222. And if you find yourself experiencing any of those side effects frequently after taking a melatonin supplement, it could be to blame. In this instance, Dr. Rodriguez recommended scaling back on the dosage and speaking with your doctor. And since recent research is showing some brands contain much more melatonin than what’s listed on the label, if taking less of one brand isn’t alleviating symptoms, you may want to switch to a new one entirely.
Is Melatonin Safe For Kids?
Another area of concern around melatonin gummies, specifically, is kids’ safety, as children can confuse the gummies for candy and consume too many. “There have been an increasing number of calls to Poison Control centers regarding children accessing and ingesting higher dose quantities of melatonin, for which short-term surveillance is provided, but no long-term studies that we can learn from,” Dr. Loafman says.
Over time, it’s possible that the effects high doses of melatonin have on hormones could “alter and accelerate the onset of puberty,” Dr. Loafman warns, adding that no long-term studies have proven that’s a risk.
Regardless, he advises against giving melatonin to any children under 5 and suggests speaking with your child’s doctor before giving older kids the supplements.
. . . Are Any Supplements Safe?
The Food and Drug Administration regulates supplements as foods, not drugs. That means the organization does not need to test or approve dietary supplements for safety and effectiveness, nor do they need to approve the marketing or labeling. It’s “the responsibility of dietary supplement companies to ensure their products meet the safety standards for dietary supplements and are not otherwise in violation of the law,” per the FDA, which means it’s a bit of an honor system.
“Supplements are largely unregulated, which leaves each manufacturer a wide range of flexibility on what their products contain and what health benefits they claim, so it’s really a matter of buyer beware,” Dr. Loafman explains. “Similarly, doing your own research on vitamins and supplements is limited to the research that is available, which is often based on small studies and subject to marketing goals.”
It’s important to keep that in mind when considering studies like the new one presented here. With so much money and marketing behind supplements but little actual oversight, it’s difficult for consumers to know exactly what they’re getting. (Add on celebrity backing of supplement brands and misinformation and hype spread by social media, and the whole industry seems a bit sus.)
One of the best things you can do is look for products that have been independently verified for quality and purity by the US Pharmacopeial Convention (USP), a nonprofit organization recognized by the FDA, Dr. Loafman says. Poison Control agrees. Look for its gold USP seal on supplement labels. “USP performs testing on vitamins and supplements to verify both the contents and the dosages the product contains. USP and other certifying bodies do not evaluate the purported health benefits or the overall safety, but they do provide peace of mind on contents,” Dr. Loafman says.
It’s also worth noting that supplements of any kind – including melatonin – can interfere with certain health conditions and some types of medicine, per Mayo Clinic. For that reason, Mayo Clinic recommends talking to your doctor before taking anything new or if you start to experience any side effects.