Medical Disclaimer: The following content should not be used as medical advice or as a recommendation for any specific supplement or medication. It is important to consult your health care provider prior to starting a new medication or altering your current dosage.
During pregnancy, natural changes in the body often lead to difficulty sleeping. Considering that 97% of pregnant people experience sleep issues, it’s reasonable that many want to learn about strategies for better sleep.
Melatonin is a hormone made naturally in the body. It is also sold as a dietary supplement and marketed as a sleep aid. Although research is limited and experts often warn against its use, melatonin is one of the most commonly used supplements during pregnancy.
We explore the potential impacts of taking melatonin supplements while pregnant. We also provide several evidence-based tips for better sleep during pregnancy.
What is Melatonin?
Melatonin is a hormone produced by the body on a regular schedule, based on the time of day. Along with other hormones, melatonin regulates the sleep-wake cycle, which is a daily pattern that drives a person’s level of alertness and tiredness.
In pregnant people, melatonin made in the body passes to a fetus via the placenta and is considered necessary for a healthy pregnancy. It stimulates the immune system, regulates circadian rhythms, and provides information to the fetus about the time of day.
Melatonin supplements have been researched extensively in the general population for their potential sleep benefits. Studies show that taking melatonin may reduce symptoms of jet lag and help people with insomnia fall asleep faster.
Although short-term melatonin use appears safe for most people, there are several potential drawbacks to using melatonin as a sleep aid:
- Side effects: Temporary use of melatonin is associated with only mild side effects, such as nausea, dizziness, and headache. Doctors are still unsure of the risks associated with the long-term use of melatonin supplements.
- Drug interactions: Melatonin supplements can interact with other medications and cause unwanted or dangerous side effects. People taking blood thinners, benzodiazepines, or being treated for epilepsy should talk to their doctor before taking melatonin.
- Lack of standards: Melatonin is a dietary supplement, so it is not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the same way as medicines. There are fewer standards for melatonin supplements, which can contain more or less melatonin than what is advertised and ingredients other than what is listed on the label.
While anyone thinking about taking melatonin should weigh the pros and cons with the support of a health professional, following the advice of a doctor is even more important for pregnant people. Limited research has been published about the use of melatonin in people who are pregnant, and the studies that have been conducted offer only partial insight.
Is It Safe to Take Melatonin During Pregnancy?
Although there is no evidence that melatonin is harmful if taken during pregnancy, the supplement passes to the fetus through the placenta affecting the fetus’s level of melatonin. Due to the lack of research, experts recommend against using melatonin unless it is prescribed by a doctor.
A Gap in Health Research
While early research is encouraging, there remains a lack of clinical trials examining the use of melatonin to treat sleep issues during pregnancy.
Pregnant people are often excluded from research into the efficacy and safety of medications. Until recently, pregnant people were considered a federally protected, vulnerable population, which made it more challenging to include them in research studies. This means that the effects on pregnant people are unknown for a large number of drugs on the market.
Fortunately, the National Institute of Health is working to close this gap and reduce the barriers preventing the inclusion of pregnant people in research studies. Additionally, organizations like MotherToBaby connect pregnant people with studies to help increase scientific knowledge on the safety of medications and vaccines in pregnancy.
Tips for Sleep During Pregnancy
If you’re having trouble sleeping during pregnancy, making small changes may help you get the sleep you need.
- Relax before bedtime: Find a relaxing activity to help you wind down before bedtime. Some people enjoy a bath, a warm drink, or even a good book.
- Take naps: Get your sleep where you can. A daytime nap can reduce daytime sleepiness and help make up for poor sleep at night.
- Improve your sleep hygiene: Work on your sleep hygiene by focusing on healthy sleep habits. Start by limiting screen time before bed, maintaining a consistent sleep schedule, and getting some physical activity every day.
- Find the right sleep position: Doctors recommend finding a comfortable position on your left side to sleep. If this position becomes uncomfortable, try changing to your right side temporarily. Use extra pillows and blankets placed around your body for extra support.