Melatonin is a common, over-the-counter sleep aid many people take to help them fall and stay asleep at night. However, the drug can have side effects. 

Can people with diabetes safely take melatonin to sleep better?

This article will tell you everything you need to know about melatonin and diabetes. 

Close-up photo of an alarm clock and a woman sleeping in the background.

What is melatonin?

Melatonin is a naturally occurring hormone that your brain produces in response to darkness. It helps with the timing of your daily circadian rhythms. At night, it can help you sleep. 

When you’re exposed to light at night, it blocks the brain from producing melatonin. That is why you’re more likely to stay up late if you’ve been watching late-night television.   

People can take synthetically produced, over-the-counter melatonin daily to help them sleep. This can be especially helpful if your brain doesn’t produce enough melatonin on its own. 

Melatonin is considered one of the safest sleep medications you can take, but it does have potential side effects. 

The side effects of using melatonin in the short-term include:

  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Sleepiness

It is recommended that most people take between 1-3 mg of melatonin before bedtime. 

Taking 5 mg or more has been associated with the triggering of headaches and migraines in some people. 

Talk with your doctor about their recommended dose for you. 

The long-term side effects of melatonin use are unclear. More studies need to be done to determine possible long-term reactions to the medication. 

How does melatonin work?

Melatonin is not a hypnotic, which is what typical drugs that treat insomnia are called. 

Since melatonin is naturally occurring in the body, taking additional melatonin will aid your body in regulating its circadian rhythms. 

The circadian rhythm is the body’s 24-hour clock. 

Melatonin works physiologically by detoxifying free radicals. This aids in antioxidant action, bone development and protection, reproduction, cardiovascular, immune, and body mass regulation.

There is also evidence that melatonin may help the brain and improve gastrointestinal functioning as well as psychiatric and cardiovascular disorders.

But what does this all mean for people with diabetes? 

Can people with diabetes take melatonin?

Most people with diabetes can take melatonin safely. 

However, always talk with your doctor before starting any new medication, even if it’s over-the-counter. 

Taking melatonin has been associated with improved insulin resistance when combined with exercise—along with improved antioxidant activities, hyperlipidemia, and inflammatory cytokines. 

Another study noted that glucose tolerance and insulin sensitivity improved in study subjects taking exogenous melatonin as well. 

Additionally, mice showed improved insulin sensitivity by taking melatonin without depending on weight loss. 

This evidence shows that melatonin can contribute to type 2 diabetes management by inducing insulin secretion and improving β-cell function. 

This can improve blood sugar and A1C levels and insulin resistance in people with diabetes. 

Melatonin may also help improve diabetes complications, including hypertension, cardiomyopathy, retinopathy, wound healing, renal disease, and neuropathy. 

While melatonin should only be taken over the short term, it is proven to be safe and effective and may offer many health benefits as well. 

Does melatonin affect blood sugar levels?

While taking melatonin over a longer period of time can have positive effects on fasting blood sugars and A1C, taking melatonin occasionally before bed to help you sleep will not drastically increase or decrease your blood sugar levels

Taking melatonin from time to time will not require insulin for high blood sugars or food to treat low blood sugars. 

However, contact your doctor to discuss treatment options and alternatives to melatonin if you’re experiencing low or high blood sugar levels from taking melatonin. 

Can you take too much melatonin? 

Yes, and overdosing on melatonin is possible. 

A typical adult dose can range anywhere from 1-10 mg per night. However, taking 30 mg or more can cause severe adverse side effects.

The side effects of taking too much melatonin include:

  • Excessive sleepiness
  • Vomiting
  • Trouble breathing
  • Headache or migraines
  • Low blood pressure 
  • Gastrointestinal problems
  • Changes in hormone levels
  • Mood swings 

Children are especially susceptible to overdoses. 

Call your doctor right away or seek emergency medical attention if you suspect you or your child has overdosed on melatonin. 

Overdosing on melatonin can cause serious side effects and can even be fatal. 

Who should avoid melatonin? 

Always talk to your doctor before you or your child begins taking melatonin. 

You should not take melatonin if: 

  • If you are pregnant or breastfeeding
  • You have an autoimmune disorder (talk with your doctor) 
  • You have high blood pressure (talk with your doctor)
  • You struggle with depression
  • You have a seizure disorder

If you are under 18, seek guidance from your doctor if you wish to take melatonin. 

Can children with diabetes take melatonin?

Many children will respond to a low dose of melatonin (between 0.5-1 mg) when taken between 30 and 90 minutes before bedtime. 

A child having diabetes (type 1 or type 2 diabetes) will not affect whether or not they can or should take melatonin.

Talk with your pediatrician about the proper dose and timing of melatonin if your child is having trouble sleeping. 

Is melatonin addictive?

According to sleep experts and researchers, melatonin is not addictive.  

There is no evidence that people become physically dependent on the supplement, and you won’t develop withdrawal symptoms if you stop taking it. 

However, if you find that you’re taking melatonin for several weeks or a month and your sleep is not improving, or you find that you cannot sleep without taking it, you should talk to your doctor. 

Can I get melatonin from food?

Yes! For some people, taking exogenous melatonin in pill form can be too strong.

You can also get melatonin from the foods you eat. 

The following foods contain melatonin naturally:

  • Bananas
  • Cherries
  • Milk
  • Fish
  • Walnuts
  • Kiwi
  • Eggs
  • Pistachios
  • Almonds
  • Oatmeal
  • Cashews
  • Sardines
  • Grapes
  • Salmon
  • Cherry juice
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Mushrooms 

Eating any of these foods a few hours before bed may improve your sleep quality.  

This can be a great alternative if you do not wish to take melatonin in pill form. 

Are there alternatives to melatonin?

There are many alternatives to taking melatonin. 

Always talk to your doctor if you’re interested in a prescription sleep medication instead of taking melatonin. 

A prescription drug called ramelteon is specifically designed to mimic the effects of melatonin in the body. 

However, in addition to melatonin-rich foods, the following natural strategies may help you sleep at night:

  • Turning your bedroom temperature down to 68 degrees Fahrenheit 
  • Stopping all caffeine consumption at least 8 hours before bed
  • Exercising daily, but not at night
  • Taking a warm bath before bed
  • Turning off the television (and other screens with blue light) a few hours before bed
  • Not eating too close to bedtime
  • Eating lower carbohydrate, higher protein meals in the evening
  • Not drinking too much water before bed (to prevent having to use the restroom in the middle of the night) 
  • Enjoying a cup of herbal tea at night 
  • Using black-out curtains for a totally dark bedroom 
  • Avoiding alcohol 

Additionally, natural supplements and vitamins, including magnesium, valerian root, l-theanine, chamomile, and passionflower, can help aid in sleep as well.