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Melatonin Has Recently Surged in Popularity, According to a New Study. But Is It Safe?


Melatonin Has Recently Surged in Popularity, According to a New Study. But Is It Safe?

According to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association this week, an increasing number of Americans have turned to melatonin to try to get some much-needed rest. Researchers used data from the 1999–2000 to 2017–2018 cycles of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), which is a series of cross-sectional sample surveys of the U.S. population. From this data, it was interpreted that the consumption of melatonin among U.S. adults, increased “significantly” over this time.

Melatonin is a hormone naturally produced by the brain’s pineal gland. It helps govern circadian rhythm—the natural regulation of the 24-hour sleep-wake cycle. Specifically, melatonin levels rise as it gets dark outside, which helps signal to the body that it’s time to sleep soon. Melatonin supplements work similarly to the real thing and are used widely as an over-the-counter way to help people catch some z’s.

Researchers found that the weighted prevalence of melatonin use grew from 0.4% in 1999–2000 to 2.1% in 2017–2018, marking 2009–2010 as the period when the increase began. The increase was observed across all demographic groups. Researchers collected data from 55,021 adults, who were on average 47 years old. The number of participants involved in each cycle varied from 4,865 to 6,214.

The study also found that melatonin was not only being taken by more people but in higher doses too. The prevalence of melatonin use greater than 5 milligrams per day—some older research has found that the recommended intake for melatonin to assist sleep is 0.3 milligrams, even though most of melatonin tablets sold contain at least 3 milligrams—increased from 0.08% in 2005–2006 to 0.28% in 2017–2018. This appears to be one of the major takeaways of the findings, considering the real amount of melatonin in store-bought supplements can contain 478% more than what is recorded on the package label, according to the same researchers. (The U.S. Food and Drug Administration doesn’t regulate supplements to make sure they’re safe or delivering the concentration—or even exact…

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