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Sleep is important for your mental and physical health. But nearly a third of U.S. adults don’t get enough. Some people turn to sleep aids for help. A new study found that the number of adults taking melatonin supplements to help them sleep has risen sharply.

Melatonin is produced by the brain in response to darkness. It helps cue the body that it’s time to sleep. But studies have not consistently shown that melatonin supplements can help promote sleep.

Researchers looked at melatonin use in 55,000 adults who took part in a national survey. The survey ran from 1999 to 2018.

Melatonin use increased from 0.4% of survey participants to 2.1% over the nearly two decades. The use of high doses—over 5 milligrams per day—rose from 2005 on.

Overall, high-dose melatonin use remained low. But these findings raise safety concerns. Dietary supplements are not regulated. Companies do not have to prove their products work. And sometimes, the amount of melatonin in a pill can be as much as five times higher than what the label says.

Melatonin supplements appear to be safe for most people when taken for a short period. But information on the safety of long-term use and of taking high doses is lacking.

“Our findings highlight the need for clinical studies to look at the long-term safety of melatonin use. We also want to understand whether it can effectively help people with sleep problems,” says Dr. Naima Covassin at the Mayo Clinic, who led the study.

Trends in use of melatonin supplements among US adults, 1999-2018. Li J, Somers VK, Xu H, Lopez-Jimenez F, Covassin N. JAMA. 2022 Feb 1;327(5):483-485. doi: 10.1001/jama.2021.23652. PMID: 35103775.

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