Is Melatonin Addictive? No, But That Doesn’t Mean It’s Safe

Melatonin isn’t addictive, but you may become psychologically dependent on it to fall asleep. Optimize your natural melatonin with good sleep hygiene.
Updated
2024-02-16
12 MINS
Written by
Jeff Kahn, M.S., Rise Science Co-Founder
Reviewed by
Jamie Zeitzer, PhD, Rise Science Scientific Reviewer
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Is Melatonin Addictive?

  • Melatonin isn’t addictive. You don’t become physically dependent on it, develop a tolerance to it, or get withdrawal symptoms when you stop taking it.
  • However, you can become psychologically dependent on melatonin and feel like you can’t sleep without it because sleeping without it stresses you out, which keeps you up. 
  • The RISE app can help you sleep without taking melatonin. RISE predicts when your natural rate of melatonin production is at its highest, so you know when to go to bed at the best bedtime for you. Plus, the app can guide you through behaviors that boost your natural production of the hormone.
  • And if you decide to take melatonin supplements, RISE can tell you the best time to take them based on your own body clock.

Melatonin supplements are usually a synthetic form of the natural sleep hormone made in your pineal gland. They also aren’t physically addictive like traditional sleeping pills can be. But that doesn’t mean they can’t mess with your sleep or that they’re safe to use long term. 

Below, we’ll dive more into whether melatonin is addictive. Plus, we’ll share how you can use the RISE app to fall asleep without melatonin — or any other sleep aid for that matter.

Advice From a Sleep Doctor

Advice From a Sleep Doctor

“Melatonin isn’t addictive, but you can become psychologically dependent on it and feel like you can’t sleep without it. Try weaning yourself off, winding down before bed with the lights dimmed low, and trusting your body can make all the melatonin it needs for you to fall asleep.”

Rise Science sleep advisor and medical reviewer, Dr. Chester Wu. Dr. Wu is double board certified in psychiatry and sleep medicine.

Is Melatonin Addictive?

Melatonin isn’t thought to be addictive physiologically, but that doesn’t stop some people feeling like they need it to fall asleep. 

If something is addictive, it can cause a strong or even uncontrollable compulsion to keep using it. You might continue using something even if it’s causing harm. Melatonin isn’t addictive in this way. 

But if you take the supplement regularly, and find it helps you drift off, you may find on nights when you don’t take melatonin, you worry about how you’ll fall asleep without it. This can lead to anxiety at night and being unable to fall asleep as easily as you do when you take melatonin, leading you to believe you need it. 

When you don’t take melatonin, you might put more pressure on yourself to fall asleep. But the more effort you put into sleep, the harder it is to get.

This doesn’t mean you’re physically addicted to melatonin, though. 

“You definitely can sleep without taking melatonin!” explains Dr. Jamie Zeitzer, co-director of the Center for Sleep and Circadian Sciences at Stanford University and one of our sleep advisors. “You may have developed a psychological dependence on melatonin and now that you believe that you cannot sleep without taking it, you’ve erected an additional psychological barrier to actually getting sleep.”

More on how to fall asleep without taking melatonin soon.

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Is Melatonin Habit-Forming? 

Melatonin can be habit-forming for some people. If you take melatonin every night and rely on it to fall asleep, it can become a psychological habit. That doesn’t mean you’re physically addicted to melatonin, but you may feel the need to take it every night to sleep, similar to how many of us habitually drink caffeine each morning to wake up. 

Can Your Body Become Dependent on Melatonin?

Your body is unlikely to become dependent on melatonin. 

If you become physically dependent on a substance, your body adapts to it, you’ll need more of it to get the same effect, and you may get withdrawal symptoms when you stop taking it. This doesn’t happen with melatonin. 

Some experts believe taking melatonin supplements may cause your brain to stop making its own supply of the hormone, which could lead to dependence. But this didn’t happen in a study of night shift workers who took melatonin for seven days and had their natural melatonin levels measured against those taking a placebo. However, more research needs to be done to see if this happens with long-term use.

Melatonin shouldn’t cause withdrawal symptoms. However, more research is needed to see how melatonin withdrawal impacts certain sub-populations. 

One study looking into melatonin use among psychiatric patients found it may have withdrawal symptoms causing a “free running” circadian rhythm. This is when your sleep-wake cycle isn’t synchronized with cues like light and dark, leading to disturbed sleep patterns, insomnia, and daytime sleepiness. 

If you have a history of addiction or medical conditions, speak to your healthcare provider to make sure melatonin is right for you.

You probably won’t become physically dependent on melatonin, but you may become psychologically dependent on it if you feel like you can’t sleep without it and get anxious when you try. 

We’ve covered more on why you can’t sleep without melatonin here. 

Can You Develop a Tolerance to Melatonin? 

You probably won’t develop a tolerance to melatonin. As it’s a hormone our bodies make naturally, we don’t seem to build up a tolerance to it, so we don’t need to take more and more of it over time to feel the same effects (although one small study shows some evidence of that).

It can be easy to feel like you need to take more and more melatonin, though. 

In many countries, melatonin is only available by prescription, but in the US, it’s unregulated. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) classifies it as a dietary supplement. That means there are no clear guidelines around dosages. 

And as the amount of melatonin and the time you take it can dramatically change the effects, without clear guidance on these things, it’s easy to keep missing the mark when it comes to trying to fall asleep with melatonin. Because of this, you may find yourself reaching for higher and higher doses each night, trying to make it work. 

We covered in more detail how much melatonin is too much here.

Melatonin supplements aren’t a magic sleep pill, either. They don’t work in the same way traditional sedating sleep aids do. Instead of forcing your body to sleep, they work best when used as a chronobiotic, or something that shifts the timing of your circadian rhythm, or body clock. 

Melatonin can prompt your brain and body to wind down and prepare for sleep, and it may take a few hours to start feeling drowsy. 

There are many things that can counteract this. If you aren’t practicing good sleep hygiene — maybe you get too much light exposure in the evenings and drink coffee, alcohol, and eat a large meal close to bedtime — you may cancel out the sleepiness supplements cause. 

This, again, may lead you to start taking higher doses, trying to override sleep-disturbing behaviors, instead of addressing them head-on. 

We cover other reasons why melatonin supplements may not work for you here.

Can You Take Melatonin Long Term?

It’s unclear if you can take melatonin long term. While there’s plenty of research into short-term use, there really isn’t much looking into whether you can take melatonin long term. 

One 2015 paper looked into several studies and concluded the data for long-term use of melatonin was limited. Most studies are one to seven days long, and one paper even stated there are no studies longer than six months. 

So while there’s no evidence to say long-term use is unsafe, there’s also no evidence to say it’s safe. It’s much better to take low doses of melatonin in the short term — like when treating jet lag or adjusting to shift work — and then get back to natural sleep aids, like maintaining sleep hygiene, instead. 

Heads-up: Melatonin may not be the answer if you’re trying to solve ongoing sleep problems or sleep disorders like insomnia. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommends against using melatonin to treat insomnia. It’s best to speak with a healthcare professional to see if this is the right treatment. 

More research needs to be done to determine whether it’s safe for children and adolescents to take melatonin over a long period of time. Those taking prescription medications — like diabetes meds or immune system suppressants — or on contraception should speak to a doctor before taking melatonin. And those who are pregnant, breastfeeding, or have a medical condition like dementia or high blood pressure should get medical advice and potentially avoid the supplements altogether. 

We’ve covered more on whether you can take melatonin every night here. 

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What Happens When You Stop Taking Melatonin? 

As melatonin isn’t addictive, you shouldn’t get any withdrawal effects when you stop taking it. However, you may find it harder to sleep if you’re feeling stressed and anxious about trying to sleep without melatonin. 

RISE users say stress and anxiety are the biggest challenges when it comes to getting enough sleep, so any added worries can cause sleeplessness. 

If you’ve been taking high doses of melatonin, you may experience rebound insomnia, where your sleep gets worse when you stop taking the supplement. This can happen when you take supraphysiological doses, or doses larger than your body naturally makes. Anything more than 0.5 milligrams can be a supraphysiological dose, but you’ll be more at risk if you’ve been taking 5 milligrams of melatonin or more.

Make sure you give yourself plenty of time to unwind before bed and remind yourself that millions of people fall asleep without melatonin supplements every night, and you can too.

We’ve covered what to do when you’re too stressed to sleep here.

What Are Melatonin Side Effects? 

The side effects of melatonin include: 

  • Headaches 
  • Nausea 
  • Dizziness 
  • Depression 
  • Tremors
  • Low blood pressure  
  • Allergic reactions 
  • Unintended drowsiness 
  • Lowered mental performance (a 2023 study found young adults had worse cognition the morning after taking melatonin)

These are mild compared to prescription and over-the-counter sleep medications, but it’s still worth being cautious about melatonin use.

When talking about melatonin, the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health says, “there’s not enough information yet about possible side effects to have a clear picture of overall safety.”

If you do decide to take melatonin, we recommend Thorne and USP tested as reputable brands.

How to Wean Yourself Off Melatonin? 

You can wean yourself off melatonin by slowly reducing how much you take. Speak to a healthcare provider about a personalized taper schedule or, if going solo, slowly reduce how much melatonin you take over the course of a couple of weeks. Don’t cut time-release supplements in half, though. Make a plan for how you’ll cut down on melatonin during the day, rather than winging it (and worrying about it) before bed.

As melatonin isn’t addictive and there’s no evidence of withdrawal effects, you can go cold turkey if you like. But slowly tapering off may help you psychologically get used to sleeping without it. 

Improving your sleep hygiene can ensure your body can make all the melatonin it needs and syncing up with your circadian rhythm can help you harness it to get a good night’s sleep.

Here’s what to do.  

Improve Your Sleep Hygiene

Sleep hygiene is a set of behaviors you can do throughout the day to help you fall asleep and stay asleep come nighttime. Some of them, like light and alcohol, can impact your melatonin levels.

Here’s what good sleep hygiene looks like: 

  • Getting natural light in the morning and throughout the day 
  • Dimming the lights and putting on blue-light blocking glasses 90 minutes before bed 
  • Keeping your bedroom dark, cool, and quiet
  • Avoiding caffeine, alcohol, vigorous exercise, and large meals too late in the day

The RISE app can remind you when to do 20+ sleep hygiene habits based on your circadian rhythm each day. For example, you can set a reminder to get light exposure in the morning to help wake you up, and avoid it come evening to ensure your levels of melatonin are high to prime your body for sleep.

We’ve covered more ways to increase melatonin naturally here.

RISE app screenshot showing when to get and avoid bright light
The RISE app can guide you through 20+ daily healthy sleep habits.

RISE users on iOS 1.202 and above can set up their 20+ in-app habit notifications here.  

Sync Up With Your Circadian Rhythm

Syncing up with your circadian rhythm — the roughly 24-hour cycle that dictates your energy levels — can help you take advantage of your natural melatonin. 

There’s a roughly one-hour window of time when your body’s rate of melatonin production is at its highest. In the RISE app, we call this your Melatonin Window. Go to sleep during this one-hour window and you should find it easier to fall asleep.

RISE users say this helps them fall asleep without any sleep aids or supplements at all. 

“If I go to sleep according to my schedule, within my Melatonin Window, I am guaranteed to satisfy my sleep needs without any additional sleep aids, supplements, or medications. I am blown away by the accuracy and effectiveness of RISE.” Read the review

RISE app screenshot showing your melatonin window reminder
The RISE app can show you when your natural melatonin levels are high.

RISE users on iOS 1.202 and above can set up a reminder to check their Melatonin Window here.

Expert tip: Good sleep hygiene and syncing up with your circadian rhythm can help you get enough sleep at night. Use RISE to find out how much sleep you need. It varies from person to person. 

When we looked at how much sleep 1.95 million RISE users aged 24 and up need, we found it ranged from five hours to 11 hours 30 minutes. Almost half needed eight hours or more.

The RISE app can tell you how much sleep you need
How much sleep RISE users need.

You Don’t Need Melatonin to Sleep

While there’s still a lot we need to learn about melatonin, especially about long-term use, most experts agree it isn’t addictive. 

Still, you don’t want to rely on it every night to fall asleep. 

You can turn to supplements on the rare occasions they’re needed — like when adjusting to a new time zone or shifting your sleep schedule. In these cases, the RISE app can tell you the exact time to take them to make them more effective. 

For every other night, RISE can tell you when to do 20+ good sleep hygiene behaviors and predict your Melatonin Window to help you get a good night’s sleep without popping a single pill. 

It works fast too — 80% of RISE users get better sleep within five days.

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