Melatonin is a hormone that your brain naturally produces in response to darkness. The hormone is synthesized in your endocrine system from serotonin. Produced in the pineal gland, melatonin and serotonin are both associated with your circadian rhythm, which regulates when you sleep and wake up. Melatonin dietary supplements provide the body with melatonin when it isn’t producing enough naturally. Although melatonin dietary supplements can be derived from animals or microorganisms, they are usually made synthetically in a laboratory under a control setting. Melatonin supplements can help you fall asleep, but there’s one disturbing side-effect commonly associated with them. Research points out weird and vivid dreams can occur when taking melatonin supplements, but in some cases melatonin can act as a treatment for night terrors or nightmares. In this blog, we’ll explore melatonin supplements and how they impact dreams and what you can expect.
How Melatonin Works to Induce Sleep
When the retina of the eyes absorbs light, it sends a signal to the suprachiasmatic nucleus in the brain to suppress melatonin production. In darkness, the SCN stimulates the pineal gland to trigger melatonin. When melatonin levels increase, your body temperature and blood pressure drop and neuronal activity in the brain slows down to prepare the body for sleep.
Melatonin supplements are quickly released into the bloodstream. The effects can be felt within as little as 10 minutes or may take up to an hour for tiredness to occur.
Why Take Melatonin Supplements
People take melatonin supplements when they have insomnia -- which is defined as difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep. It’s also used for some sleep problems, such as delayed sleep phase disorder. According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, melatonin supplements can help night shift workers sleep during the day. It’s also a common treatment or preventative treatment for jet-lag. Melatonin supplements provide your body with an extra dose of a hormone it’s making on its own. Research cannot fully conclude that taking melatonin supplements promotes sleep if you are not melatonin-deficient. It’s usually most-effective for people who are not producing enough of the hormone on their own.
Melatonin as a Treatment for Hallucinations
A 2018 study explored several cases of people reportedly having frightening hallucinations at night. When the lights were turned on, the sounds and sights would disappear. The research found that taking 5 milligrams of melatonin helped to immediately stop hallucinations in the people studied. They also found 5 mg of delayed-release melatonin reduced the number of hallucinations that occurred. When the patients in the study took less than 5 mg, it had virtually no effect on their hallucinations. The suggested dosage for stopping and preventing hallucinations and nightmares is 5 mg.
Does Melatonin Cause Vivid Dreams
While melatonin can help treat night terrors and hallucinations that occur at night, there is evidence to support melatonin supplements that produce vivid dreams. Melatonin can increase REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, which is the deep sleep cycle when people tend to dream. When spending more time in this stage of sleep, vivid and detailed dreams are more likely to occur. Being asleep longer can increase the chances of dreams being bad or unsettling.
Interestingly, a seminal 1987 study found that when you’re in the REM stage of sleep, melatonin actually releases a substance called vasotocin, that helps your brain erase the memories or visions created while you’re dreaming. During REM sleep, vivid dreams are the most likely to be remembered, but taking extra melatonin increases the amount of vasotocin in your brain, thus erasing the actual memories of the dreams and the details.
The brain erases dream memories when you wake up from sleep. This ensures your brain can differentiate between dream memories and real memories. Vasotocin isn’t always properly released by melatonin, which means the memories of your dreams do not end up erased. This only weakens the brain’s ability to distinguish between real memories and dreams.
The research shows melatonin does play a role with how your brain processes dreams and how memories of dreams are stored. Any change in melatonin levels within the body— whether they’re naturally produced or from taking supplements — can impact your dreams.
Melatonin Induced Nightmares
A 2014 review of studies published in Nutrition Journal determined some people reported having nightmares while they were taking melatonin. Experts believe the link is casual and there are usually some other factors that influence this. It could be the consumption of other things during the day, such as alcohol, combined with melatonin.
Potential Side Effects from Melatonin
Melatonin taken orally is generally safe when following the appropriate dosing guidelines. Some side effects associated with melatonin even when taken as directed include:
Some of the less common side effects include brief feelings of depression, confusion, slight anxiety, abdominal cramps, irritability, and decreased alertness. Melatonin is meant to cause drowsiness, therefore you’ll want to avoid driving within five hours of consuming the supplement.
Melatonin is not recommended if you have an autoimmune disease.
Sleep Quality from Melatonin
Research suggests melatonin supplements can slightly reduce the time it takes to fall asleep, however the effects on sleep quality are unclear. It is believed that melatonin supplements are more effective in those with a deficiency than when consumed by someone already producing a normal level of the hormone.
Melatonin supplements do not make you sleep. Instead, they help to jumpstart the body’s natural process of releasing the hormones necessary for you to fall asleep. Melatonin is a healthy, non-habit forming alternative to sleep aids. There are also health benefits associated with melatonin, aside from helping you fall asleep. Melatonin can treat depression, chronic pain, high blood pressure, and anxiety. If you need help falling asleep, discuss melatonin supplements with a doctor or trusted health care professional.
This blog post is for educational purposes only and does not constitute medical or other professional advice. Your specific circumstances should be discussed with a healthcare provider. All statements of opinion represent the writers' judgement at the time of publication and are subject to change. Phoenix and its affiliates provide no express or implied endorsements of third parties or their advice, opinions, information, products, or services.