Melatonin is a hormone our bodies create naturally to help us fall (and stay) asleep. Its production decreases throughout the aging process. So, it’s no wonder why over-the-counter melatonin is popular for seniors over age 65.
Best of all, melatonin is generally non-habit forming, fairly inexpensive, and it’s conveniently found on the shelves of stores throughout America. But with all of its benefits, are there melatonin side effects in elderly?
While there are seemingly pros to taking small amounts of melatonin over short periods of time, there are some concerns:
- Melatonin is a supplement currently unregulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). That means the melatonin you buy may contain more or less of the dose stated on its packaging. There’s a risk of accidental overdose. And there’s no federal oversight on the purity of the ingredients.
- Countries like the United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia only offer melatonin as a prescription. They suggest there needs to be further research in regard to standard melatonin dosages, length of use, and any unknown long-term issues before they allow it on store shelves.
- Melatonin is only a temporary sleep aid. It shouldn’t be used for more than approximately six weeks.
SleepFoundation.org states that most adults can take melatonin every night for short periods with few concerns of melatonin side effects in elderly. In fact, melatonin usually stays in the human body for under five hours.
Besides getting quality sleep and fighting off insomnia, the benefits of taking melatonin may be:
- increased metabolism
- slowing of hair loss/hair growth stimulation/less gray hair
- a decrease in inflammation
Melatonin’s Common Side Effects
Melatonin side effects in elderly can occur with the use of any prescription drug or other supplement. First and foremost: don’t mix melatonin use with alcohol. Secondly, never drive 4-5 hours after taking it.
Melatonin may cause:
- vivid dreams or nightmares
- dry mouth
- dry, itchy skin
- abdominal pain
- temporary depression
Increased Fall Risk
Two more melatonin side effects are drowsiness and dizziness. Your elderly loved one may already be concerned about dizziness and their risk of fall. Their balance can already be affected by age and other medications.
Melatonin Side Effects in Elderly with Specific Health Issues
Speak to their physician before using melatonin. While many adults should be able to safely take it for brief periods, GoodRX explains that melatonin lowers blood pressure. This can cause bleeding (especially alongside blood pressure medications or blood thinners).
Furthermore, your senior loved one should avoid melatonin if they’ve been diagnosed with Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), autoimmune disease, or if they have seizures or struggle with depression. Consult with their doctor about how their diabetes diagnosis may affect their ability to use melatonin.
Melatonin may also be an allergy trigger.
Melatonin’s Withdrawal Period
Since the human body actually produces melatonin and it’s necessary for sleep, there should be no withdrawal symptoms after taking a bout of melatonin. However, remember that melatonin use is only recommended for brief periods of time.
You and your elderly loved one may have concerns about melatonin. It’s advisable to speak to their primary physician before melatonin use. It’s imperative that the benefits of melatonin use will outweigh the risks.
Sadly, some medications can react negatively to melatonin use. While melatonin is generally safe and readily available over the counter in America, there will always be the possibility of melatonin side effects in elderly. Long-term use could suggest that your aging loved one and their physician aren’t remedying the root cause of the sleep issues.