Melatonin Dreams and Nightmares: Causes and Side Effects

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Maybe melatonin is your secret to a good night’s sleep, but your dreams involve the zombie apocalypse or showing up to work without pants.

Is it possible that your BFF melatonin at bedtime is souring your dreams and giving you nightmares?

Melatonin is a hormone naturally produced by your body to help you feel sleepy at bedtime. Along with cortisol, it’s a key hormone for your circadian rhythm, which basically manages your sleep-wake cycles, temperature regulation, and metabolism.

Basically, your melatonin levels are influenced by light exposure, and your brain produces more melatonin when it’s dark to help you relax during Zzzs.

Taking a melatonin supplement near bedtime seems to trigger sleepy vibes when your own melatonin production is shut down. This can happen if you are jet lagged, work nights, or don’t experience “natural” levels of light and dark throughout the day.

Why do we dream at all? Some believe dreams act like a cognitive housekeeper sorting and connecting real-life images, solving problems, packing things up for long-term storage, and taking out the trash.

The truth is, no one really knows the purpose of dreams, let alone why we sometimes have really weird and vivid dreams.

If you notice that you are having strange and vivid dreams while taking melatonin, here are some possible explanations.

Melatonin improves sleep quality

Chances are you’re taking melatonin supplements because you’re not sleeping well. If melatonin helps your sleep, sleeping more and having better quality sleep means you have more opportunities to dream.

A balance sheet 2013 over 19 studies involving 1,683 people found that melatonin particularly improved sleep quality, total sleep time and the time it took to fall asleep in people with insomnia.

So your wild fantasy nightlife might just be a side effect of getting more Zzz.

Melatonin boosts memory processing

When you are in REM sleep, the hormone melatonin naturally helps releases vasotocin. This substance helps your brain erase memories while you dream (basically so you can forget about that wild dream and avoid confusing it with real life).

REM sleep is also the part of your sleep cycle where you have vivid dreams that you are most likely to remember. And if you take a melatonin supplement, there’s a chance that increasing the amount of melatonin in your system may increase vasotocin. This can lead to longer periods of REM sleep, leading to strange and vivid dreams.

You may be taking too much melatonin

There is no official melatonin dosage that is considered an “overdose” amount. But, it is possible to take too much melatonin and have strange, sometimes dangerous side effects.

A side effect related to taking too much melatonin are nightmares or vivid dreams. But we don’t know exactly why this happens beyond the fact that you have more opportunities for REM sleep and dreaming.

So how do you know you’re taking too much? Research on the sweet spot of melatonin dosing varies. Some studies say 0.1 to 10 milligrams (mg) per dose, others say between 1 and 5mg.

Additionally, because melatonin is considered a dietary supplement, it is not regulated and tested in the same way as drugs. It is therefore possible that the melatonin supplement you are taking does not contain the ingredients listed or does not have the dose of melatonin indicated on the label.

In one 2017 evaluation of 30 commercially available melatonin supplements, melatonin content ranged from a fraction of what was stated on the label to more than 4 times the amount claimed. Ouch!

Nightmares are basically dreams that cause fear, anger, shame, or sadness. Although no research supports claims that melatonin causes nightmares, there may be potential links.

A 2019 review theorizes that nightmares arise from a combination of hyperarousal and the brain’s inability to eliminate or process frightening thoughts. And you’re more likely to have nightmares if you have trauma, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), obstructive sleep apnea, or insomnia.

All of these experiences or disorders can also cause trouble sleeping, which could lead you to seek sleep aid. So if you take a melatonin supplement, it can unintentionally release suppressed thoughts during REM sleep, further increasing your risk of nightmares.

Taking melatonin is generally considered safe, but there are some side effects to watch out for if you’re taking extended-release capsules or higher doses.

Potential side effects may include:

You may also experience less common side effects such as:

If you get any side effects, stop taking melatonin and talk to your doctor.

If you’re convinced that melatonin is the cause of your intense dreams or nightmares, but don’t want to completely cut it out of your routine, try these tips:

  • Take melatonin 1 hour before bedtime. It can help you relax better and relax before taking a nap. Plus, it will give melatonin time to do its job before it makes you crave more. Get the A-OK from your doctor first.
  • Relax before taking a nap. Meditate, do yoga, journal, or read your favorite book. Anything that helps your body and brain slow down.
  • Keep a dream journal. Write down your dreams and nightmares, write down the nights you took melatonin, and what may have happened during your day to influence your dreams. This can help you gauge the connection.
  • Try therapy. If you suffer from anxiety or trauma. Talking with a therapist can help you deal with your feelings and worries that follow you in your sleep.

Melatonin is naturally produced by our brain and helps our body relax for sleep. Some people take melatonin supplements to improve their sleep, and it’s considered safe in the short term for most adults.

If you have disturbing nightmares or vivid dreams while taking melatonin, you may simply be sleeping more and increasing your chances of having good or bad dreams.

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